As a cashier and the union shop steward, Rachel Fournier, who’s worked at the Ralphs on South Vermont Avenue and West Adams Boulevard for 16 years, has come into work every day through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The possibility of receiving an extra $5 an hour in hazard pay, Fournier said, is coming right when she most needs it. She has to pay off $4,000 on her credit card for recently getting a chipped tooth fixed and other expensive dental work is done.
“The company has cut hours so badly and everybody is at their contractual minimum,” Fournier said. “This money is going to help us a lot.”
Thousands of grocery and drugstore workers in the city of Los Angeles will receive an extra $5 an hour under an ordinance passed Wednesday by the City Council and now awaiting the signature of Mayor Eric Garcetti. Grocery store workers in the city on average earn $17.51 an hour.
The ordinance, which passed by a 14-1 vote, requires grocery stores and drugstores with at least 10 employees per site and those with at least 300 employees nationwide to give employees a $5 hourly wage increase for 120 days.
During his COVID-19 briefing last week, Garcetti said he fully supports the hero pay for grocery workers.
Grocery workers in parts of Southern California are already benefiting from a wage boost.
Last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a wage boost ordinance for grocery workers. That ordinance, which went into effect on Feb. 26, applies to nearly 2,500 workers in unincorporated areas of the county.
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who authored the motion, said in a statement that the “hero pay” mandate was necessary because grocers have seen profits increase during the COVID-19 pandemic while employees work in fear of exposure to the virus without receiving adequate pay.
Fournier said Kroger — the company that owns Ralphs — has done little to implement policies to protect workers during the pandemic. For example, she said the company does not enforce strict social distancing measures such as having customers line up outside to be admitted into the store in smaller numbers. Fournier said this creates a sense of normalcy within the store that prompts shoppers to put their guards down and puts the employees at risk.
“The way [the company] treats you, you don’t feel like an essential worker,” she said. “You feel like a disposable worker who happens to be performing an essential job.”
If Garcetti signs the measure, Los Angeles will join several other cities that have issued “hero pay” mandates. Long Beach passed a “hero pay” ordinance on Jan. 19, and West Hollywood and Montebello followed. The ordinances, however, have been met with opposition from the California Grocers Association, which is suing all three cities.
In the lawsuit between the California Grocers Association and the city of Long Beach, a federal judge denied the association’s bid to temporarily block Long Beach’s hazard pay mandate, which calls for an extra $4 an hour.
In the decision, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II wrote, “A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief.’” Wright concluded that the association’s claims did not fulfill this burden of proof. The lawsuit will still continue, but for now, the mandate will remain in place.
Some corporations that own grocery stores in the Los Angeles area have also expressed resistance to the mandates. Earlier this month, Kroger announced it is closing down two of its stores in Long Beach. A Kroger spokesperson said in a statement that the two locations had long been struggling and that Long Beach’s ordinance mandating hazard pay for workers prompted the decision to fully close them.
“This misguided action by the Long Beach City Council oversteps the traditional bargaining process and applies to some, but not all, grocery workers in the city,” Kroger spokesperson said in a statement.
Because Long Beach’s ordinance applies to grocery stores with at least 300 employees nationwide or at least 15 employees per store site, large companies, such as Kroger, are most affected. Kroger did not respond to our request for further comments in time for publication.
As a shop steward, Fournier represents workers at her Ralphs location in dealings with management. She said multiple co-workers have had panic attacks about coming into work over the last year.
“Thank goodness that we have actually been able to go to the L.A. City Council to take care of things,” Fournier said. “Because everything we have asked for, the company has denied.”