County looks at $5 hourly raise for frontline workers

A poster bearing COVID-19 preventative measures greets shoppers as they enter the Ralphs Super Market in Castaic on Monday morning, March 16, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Grocery and drug store workers in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, such as in Castaic and Stevenson Ranch, could soon have extra dollars in their pockets for their frontline work during the pandemic. 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set to consider Tuesday whether to approve an urgency ordinance to temporarily require grocery and drug retailers to pay their workers an additional $5 per hour in “hero pay,” or hazard wage. 

“Grocery and drug retail workers are among the heroes of this pandemic, putting their lives on the line — often for low wages and minimal benefits — in order to sustain our food system and maintain healthy communities,” reads a motion to approve “Hero Pay” by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell. “Despite their importance to our communities, their employers have not provided sufficient family-sustaining wages and ‘Hero Pay’ during the recent surge of COVID-19 cases.”

The proposed ordinance, which would require a 4-0 vote, would apply to store chains that are publicly traded or employ at least 300 workers nationwide and more than 10 per store, according to the proposal.

Local resident Cynthia, who wished not to share her full name and who’s worked at a grocery store for decades, said she sees both positives and negatives of the “hero pay.”  

“Of course, the extra $5 would be great, but I also realize that with that will come hours cut and you’ll see less employees working. We are already so short-staffed, and it will only be worse,” she said.   

If approved, Cynthia would not benefit from the extra hourly pay, however, because she works for a store chain in Valencia, which is located within the incorporated city of Santa Clarita. She said she supports the $5 hazard pay but only if it is applied countywide. 

“We all do the same job. (It) makes no sense to just do it for certain areas,” she said, adding that additional pay would help as workers in this sector have had to navigate through difficult circumstances, including “customers (that) have no respect for us.” 

Additional pay is not the answer for supporting frontline workers in grocery and drug store retailers, according to the California Grocers Association. 

“When it comes to these emergency ordinances, a lot of them are coming from a good place to care for essential workers … but this is not manageable,” said Nate Rose, a spokesman for the association, adding that the increase could lead to reduced work hours and higher food costs that would ultimately hurt low-income families. 

Santa Clarita Mayor Bill Miranda said urgency ordinances such as this one should not be rushed. 

“I’m not sure that ‘hero pay’ is the answer. We have to look at the impact on the entire community,” he said. “These are tough times and the community chooses leaders for a reason to make decisions during tough times, but you cannot rush this.” 

A better solution is to vaccinate grocery and drug store workers, Rose said, adding, “That’s really what it comes to when we talk about safety.” 

If approved, the ordinance would be in effect for 120 days. The board meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

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