WeHo City Council to Consider $5 Per Hour Extra “Hero Pay” for Grocery Workers, but Lawsuit is Likely Looming If Approved

West Hollywood’s City Council on Tuesday night instructed the city attorney to bring back for its approval a draft ordnance regarding additional “hero pay” for frontline grocery workers, but will likely face a lawsuit once it tries to enact the ordinance.

Mayor Lindsey Horvath and Councilmember John Erickson sponsored the item that would authorize a $5 per hour increase in pay for grocery workers for 120 days or until the city declares the coronavirus local emergency to be over, whichever is longer.

“Grocery store workers are essential workers who are needed to ensure the continued functioning of our community. During the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen the significant role grocery stores play in providing access to basic necessities of daily life that we may have previously taken for granted,” reads a memo about the hero pay. “These workers have been forced to face new hazards in jobs not previously considered especially dangerous.”

The ordinance would apply to grocery store chains that are publicly traded or have at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store. That would cover the major grocery chains in West Hollywood – Pavilions (Vons), Ralphs, Gelson’s, Bristol Farms, Whole Food, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s and Smart and Final.

When the pandemic began in March, some essential businesses, including many grocery stores, gave employees $2 to $4 per hour temporary raises. However, by the end of May, most of those businesses ended the extra “hero pay” even though the risk of infection employees face when they come to work did not end.   

The city attorney is to return within 30 days with a draft ordinance for the City Council to consider. If the Council does approve it, the city will likely face a lawsuit over the measure.

On Wednesday, the California Grocers Association (CGA) filed a legal challenge to a similar ordinance which the Long Beach City Council has tentatively approved. The Long Beach measure authorizes an additional $4 in hourly “hero pay” for supermarket workers in that city.

The Long Beach City Council approved the “hero pay” measure on first reading at its meeting on Tuesday with a final vote scheduled for Feb. 2.

The CGA lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles federal court, asks the court to declare the pending hazard pay decree invalid and unconstitutional. The CGA also is seeking a preliminary injunction to stop implementation of the ordinance until a judge can rule on the merits of its lawsuit.

The CGA alleges the ordinance is illegal because, by singling out certain grocers and ignoring other groups that employ essential frontline workers, it violates the constitutional requirement that similarly situated people must be treated alike. The CGA also argues that the ordinance is preempted by the federal National Labor Relations Act, which protects the integrity of the collective-bargaining process.

City News Service contributed information for this article.

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