‘Hero pay’ to continue during ongoing lawsuit between Long Beach and California Grocers Association

Union representatives, grocery workers and community members at a press conference and rally at a North Long Beach Food 4 Less in solidarity with workers fighting against parent company Kroger’s planned closure of the grocery store on Wednesday, Feb. 3. The closure was announced after city council approved a temporary hazard pay for grocery workers. Photo by Lissette Mendoza

A federal judge Thursday, Feb. 25 denied a bid by the California Grocers Association to temporarily overturn a Long Beach ordinance mandating an additional $4 in hourly “hero pay” for supermarket workers who face greater risk performing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II concluded that in its argument for a preliminary injunction — a temporary stop to the law — the CGA failed to establish a likelihood of success on its claims.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles federal court last month, asked the court to declare the hazard pay decree invalid and unconstitutional.

“Amazing news,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia tweeted. ”We just won our lawsuit and our $4 an hour Hero Pay remains in place for grocery workers. Standing up for hardworking people is always the right thing to do.”

The CGA alleged that the ordinance, which was enacted Jan. 19, 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 argued that the ordinance is preempted by the federal National Labor Relations Act, which protects the integrity of the collective-bargaining process.

“Grocery store workers are frontline heroes, and that’s why grocers have already undertaken a massive effort to institute measures to make both workers and customers safer in stores,” Ron Fong, the CGA’s president and CEO, said when the suit was filed. “But this ordinance is clearly illegal in that it interferes with the collective-bargaining process and singles out only certain grocers while ignoring other retail workers and workers in other industries providing essential services during the pandemic.”

Fong said firefighters, police officers and health care workers, as well as transportation, sanitation and restaurant workers, are essential, “yet grocers are the only businesses being targeted for extra pay mandates. We look forward to our day in court to contest the legality of this ordinance.”

The Los Angeles City Council on a 14-1 vote Wednesday, preliminarily approved an emergency ordinance to require large grocery and pharmacy retailers to offer employees an additional $5 per hour in hazard pay amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A final vote is scheduled on Wednesday.

The Los Angeles council vote came a day after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted an urgency ordinance to require $5 additional pay for national grocery and drug retail employers in unincorporated areas of the county.

The CGA has also filed federal lawsuits against West Hollywood and Montebello, seeking to declare hazard pay mandated by those cities as invalid and unconstitutional, contending that grocers will not be able to absorb the additional pay without raising prices, closing stores, reducing hours or laying off employees.

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