On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a proposal for a mandatory pay increase of $5 a hour for food and drug store workers in unincorporated parts of the county.
The proposal, co-authored by LA County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell, would also call the extra $5 a hour ‘hero pay’ and would only apply to publicly traded store chains or those that have at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 per store. This would make the pay increase applicable for large chains such as Ralph’s and Walmart, but wouldn’t harm smaller, more economically in danger independent ‘mom and pop’ grocery stores and pharmacies.
The pay increase would also only be temporary, lasting only 120 days, or 4 months, from the passage date. Other stores that sell food and beverages, such as liquor stores, would also be covered by the ordinance.
Supervisors Solis and Mitchell wrote the proposal due to the economic hardships that many of these workers are facing due to the lockdown-hurt economy, as well as the increased risk from working out in public in Los Angeles County, which has seen some of the highest number of new daily COVID-19 cases and deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, these workers have continued to show up to their jobs despite the dangers of being exposed to COVID-19,” said Supervisor Solis on Tuesday. “Because of their work on the frontlines, families throughout the county have been able to access food and medicine they need during the pandemic. While there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the health threats these workers face are as real as they were at the beginning of the pandemic.”
The motion itself stated that “These employers employ a labor workforce that consists of low-wage workers who have been disproportionately impacted by the economic fallout of this pandemic, with nearly half reporting challenges paying their bills and roughly a third having trouble paying their rent or mortgage. This public health crisis and the economic unraveling have widened the already deep divide between low-wage frontline workers and their employers and shareholders.”
Lingering questions, concerns over proposal despite passage
While most of the Supervisors supported the plan, one Supervisor, Kathryn Barger, abstained from voting due to unanswered questions and consequences of the bill. Among the questions she had asked was whether or not pharmacists, who make well above minimum wage, would get the additional pay.
However, despite lingering open questions and Barger’s abstention, the proposal passed 4-0.
Many store owners and employees that would be affected by the proposal had a mixed reaction on Wednesday, noting that it could have adverse consequences.
“We had a pay increase for a few months last year when we had shortages and panic buying,” explained Los Angeles County supermarket manager Tomas Aguilar. “We noticed the dip in finances, but it was going to a good thing to keep people safe and fed.”
“But if we have to do this until, what, May this year? I don’t know. We’ll pay that much more per hour, but we could see hours cut.”
“Food stores don’t see high margins on a lot, plus if we raise prices on the things we could, there would be an uproar. But that will be how it play out. Less new hires, more duties, fewer hours, maybe even letting a few people go. I agree that they do deserve to be paid more, but it won’t do much good when the place they work at goes out of business due to the increased costs. To every yin there’s a yang.”
The proposal will now be made into an ordinance draft to be presented at the next Supervisor’s meeting on January 26th. Should it be approved, the 120 day limit on the pay increase would begin immediately.