Cities Face Lawsuits Over ‘Hero Pay’

Several California cities have pursued mandated pay increases for grocery store workers as compensation for increased health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the state’s leading grocery store trade association claims the singling out of grocery store retailers is unlawful.

The California Grocers Association is suing Long Beach, Oakland, and Montebello over the hazard pay requirements. Los Angeles, which passed its own hero pay measure last week, is likely next in line.

“Firefighters, police officers, healthcare workers, as well as transportation, sanitation, and restaurant workers are essential, yet grocers are the only businesses being targeted for extra pay mandates,” said CGA President Ron Fong. “These ordinances will not make workers any safer.”

Fong said the requirements raise costs by 28%. Kroger has already announced plans to close two stores in Long Beach as a result. Mayor Robert Garcia joined protests over the closures last week, standing in solidarity with grocers and other advocates of Hero Pay.

There is no denying the increased risks associated with grocery retail right now. A 2020 study published in the British Medical Journal found that 1 in 5 workers from a Boston supermarket — about 20% of staff — tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. During the same time period, prevalence in the community’s general population was 0.9–1.3%.