Our View | Which Heroes Are Favored?

Our View

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is at it again — picking winners and losers in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Everyone is familiar with the punitive measures the county took against the restaurant industry a few months ago, banning outdoor dining despite any scientific evidence that doing so would reduce the spread of COVID-19.

And now, apparently, we see that at least two members of the Board of Supervisors like grocery and drug store workers much more than they like cooks and servers.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is slated to consider a motion put forth by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell to give grocery and drug store workers a $5 an hour raise.

Solis and Mitchell, embracing the role of L.A. County as the nanny county within the nanny state that is California, are pushing an urgency ordinance that would give those workers an additional $5 per hour in “hero pay.” The ordinance would apply to store chains that are publicly traded or employ at least 300 workers nationwide and more than 10 per store.

It would remain in effect for at least 120 days, and would only apply to unincorporated county territory — so, workers at a store in Stevenson Ranch or Castaic would get the raise, and those in the city of Santa Clarita would not.

“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 the motion. “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.”

We agree with Solis and Mitchell on one thing: The workers in question are heroes. They’ve continued to do their jobs faithfully during some frightening and challenging circumstances.

But this proposed ordinance is wrong-headed on several fronts, including the fact that it plays “favorites” among the many categories of workers who have braved their jobs through the pandemic, it ignores the inevitable unintended consequences, and it’s just plain a governmental over-reach.

In enacting this ordinance, the county would be staking a claim to a right to tell some businesses they have to pay their workers more, while others do not. It’s not a great leap to see this as a slippery slope.

Should profitable grocery store chains pay their workers more for showing up in the pandemic? Arguably, sure. But it’s not the government’s job to decide which businesses “should” pay their employees more — and then force them to do it.

Presumably, those workers who are members of strong labor unions that have influence over the Democrat politicians who run things in L.A. County would be more likely to be among the “favorites.”

But what about the many other heroes of the pandemic? Are grocery and drug store workers at any more risk than the gas station attendant, the fast food worker, the custodial worker who cleans rooms at the hospital or even the journalist who covers breaking news, including things like riots and protests that dominated the news last summer?

There are many heroes in the county. Why single out one category? 

Then there are the unintended consequences: Faced with a $5 per hour increase in labor costs, it’s inevitable that some stores will close, reduce hours or cut jobs — leaving some of those very workers with an all-new economic mountain to climb.

Or, they’ll raise prices to cover the added cost — and then low-income families that can scarcely afford groceries now will feel an even greater pinch. 

Further, this is a community-dividing measure, sending the message that the county government favors some workers over others.

Do grocery and drug store workers deserve “hero pay”? Yes, they do. So do many others. But it’s not the government’s proper role to dictate such things to private, law-abiding businesses.

We’ve said this before: Every worker who puts food on their family’s table is an essential worker. And throughout this pandemic, there have been acts of heroism, large and small, too many to number. But this ordinance would be yet another overstep by a county that loves to overstep.

Here’s a suggestion: Instead of playing puppet master with the economy, why not focus all this energy on improving the efficiency of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, so everyone can get that shot in the arm they need, and get back to work without fear?

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