Hazard Pay for Grocery Workers Is Trending in California

By Benjamin A. Tulis and Sehreen Ladak © Jackson Lewis February 11, 2021
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grocery worker wearing mask

Following in the footsteps of the city of Long Beach, the cities of Montebello and Oakland have passed premium-pay ordinances mandating additional pay for certain grocery store and drugstore employees.

Premium pay or "hazard pay" for grocery employees seems to be the new trend in COVID-19 regulations. This trend continues despite recent lawsuits filed in federal courts by the California Grocers Association, seeking to block the new ordinances in Long Beach, Oakland and Montebello.

The city of Montebello passed its urgency ordinance on Jan. 27. The ordinance applies to grocery and drug stores with at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 15 employees per store within the city of Montebello. The ordinance requires covered employers to pay employees working within the city an additional $4.00 per hour. The ordinance went into effect immediately and will sunset in 180 days unless extended by the city council. The city will also vote on a non-urgency version of the ordinance. This was due to concerns about litigation over the ordinance. A hearing on a preliminary injunction against the Montebello ordinance is scheduled for Feb. 19.

Oakland's ordinance applies only to grocery stores that employ 500 or more employees nationwide. The ordinance requires covered employers to pay employees working within the city an additional $5.00 per hour. Oakland's ordinance will remain in effect until the city returns to the minimal (yellow) risk level under the state of California's tier system. The California Grocers Association lawsuit against Oakland was filed on Feb. 3, alleging violations of the federal and California Equal Protection Clauses and pre-emption by the National Labor Relations Act.

On Feb. 2, the Los Angeles City Council also voted unanimously to move forward with a proposed emergency ordinance that would require grocery and pharmacy retailers with 300 or more employees nationally and 10 or more employees onsite to add $5.00 per hour for all hourly, nonmanagerial employees' wages for 120 days. The vote requested the city attorney to prepare the ordinance and the chief legislative analyst to report on potential economic impacts of the ordinance and potential legal challenges. The city of San Jose and the county of Santa Clara are considering similar ordinances.

Though the federal court denied an ex parte application for a temporary restraining order against the Long Beach ordinance, a hearing for a preliminary injunction of the Long Beach ordinance will be heard on Feb. 19.

Benjamin A. Tulis and Sehreen Ladak are attorneys with Jackson Lewis in Los Angeles. © 2021 Jackson Lewis. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission. 

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