LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — As people continue to rely on grocery stores for staple goods during Safer at Home orders, those employees have had to show up to work in-person during the pandemic, putting them at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Now, some of those employees could soon receive “hero pay,” a form of hazard payment for being out on the front lines as coronavirus cases continue to rise.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on a motion to boost pay by $5 more per hour for employees at major grocery and drugstore chains, who are considered essential workers, during the pandemic.
The motion would only apply to chains in the unincorporated parts of L.A. County.
“We do not have an idea of who’s sick or who isn’t, anybody can walk into the store,” said Norma Leiva, a grocery store worker.
On Monday, the union representing Southland grocery and drugstore workers reported another 149 coronavirus cases, adding up to a total of 3,270 members who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“I have bronchitis so if I get this disease I don’t know if I will make it, too, you know,” Leiva said.
To date, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Monday reported 9,142 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 77 additional deaths, bringing countywide totals to 827,498 cases and 10,850 deaths
As cases have soared, studies show, so have profits.
The Brookings Institute found that on average, retail companies, including grocers, earned an extra 40% profit in 2020, prompting a response from some advocates that it’s only right employees get a boost in pay.
“Some compensation for putting our lives on the line and like I said our company is making record sales, the least they could do is show their gratitude to their employees by sharing those profits,” Leiva said.
The L.A. City Council is also considering a measure requiring major grocers to temporarily raise wages by $5 an hour.
If the county motion is approved, it would stay in place for at least four months.
“Given the nature of these jobs, they are staying inside with large crowds every day, putting them at heightened risk of contacting COVID-19. Because of their work on the front lines, families throughout the county have been able to access food and medicine they need during this pandemic,” said L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis.
In response, a Ralphs supermarket spokesperson said in part: “Our most urgent priority throughout this pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers while meeting our societal obligation to provide open stores and access to fresh, affordable food. We would not operate stores that are hazardous to our associates and customers, which is why we’ve invested $1.3 billion to both reward associates and to implement dozens of safety measures. We began implementing these safety measures early in the pandemic and since that time have only strengthened our vigilance and resolve.”