The California Grocers Association has filed federal lawsuits against the cities of Santa Ana and Irvine.
The lawsuits filed in the Orange County Superior Court are asking the courts to declare the regulations invalid and unconstitutional. The association has filed similar lawsuits against Long Beach, Montebello, Oakland, San Leandro, West Hollywood, Daly City and San Jose.
Cities across California have introduced salary increases for “Heroes” and “Dangers” to compensate frontline workers for the risks they face when working directly with customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A violation of federal and state law
Ron Fong, President & CEO of the industry group, said the Santa Ana and Irvine wage increases will violate federal and state laws and will ultimately harm workers and customers.
“A $ 4 / hour mandate means an average increase in grocery store labor costs of 28%,” Fong said in a statement. “This is too great a cost increase for a grocer to accept without consequence.”
Options, he said, are few.
“Either pass the cost on to customers, reduce staff or business hours, or shut down,” said Fong. “Five stores in Los Angeles County have already closed after additional compensation mandates were issued.”
Santa Ana and Irvine have passed their salary increases for grocery and pharmacy employees in retail over the past few weeks. The hikes were approved regardless of any existing rewards, incentives, or “hero pay” programs employers may have run, the court cases say.
Reaction from the cities
Santa Ana spokesman Paul Eakins declined to discuss the lawsuit against his community.
“The city is not commenting on any pending litigation,” he said via email.
Irvine’s Mayor, Farrah Khan, said she was “disappointed” rather than surprised to learn of her city’s lawsuit.
“The money spent on any type of lawsuit or litigation could easily be spent on helping workers,” she said.
Khan expects Irvine’s raise to start next week.
‘Winner and Loser’
The lawsuits claim that the cities’ additional remuneration mandates are “winners and losers”.
By singling out large grocery chains that have unionized workers and ignoring other groups that also employ key frontline workers, the bylaws violate the US Constitution and the California Constitution’s equality clauses.
The lawsuits also allege that the regulations are excluded by the federal law on national industrial relations, which protects the integrity of the collective bargaining process.
A January study done by Capitol Matrix Consulting for the California Grocers Association found that the average wage for grocery workers in California is about $ 18 an hour. A $ 5 hourly increase, the report said, would add $ 400 or $ 33 a month to the annual grocery bill for a typical family of four.
Southern California closings
The Kroger Co., which owns Ralphs and Food 4 Less, recently announced upcoming store closings in Los Angeles, triggered by the hero’s $ 5 an hour bonus for food workers in the city.
A Food 4 Less at 5420 W. Sunset Blvd. and two Ralphs – one at 9616 W. Pico Blvd. and the other at 3300 W. Slauson Ave. – should close on May 15th.
Long Beach City Council recently issued a hazard pay mandate of $ 4 an hour for food workers. This prompted Kroger to hasten the closure of two poorly performing locations – a Ralphs and a Food 4 Less.
Buena Park, Costa Mesa, and El Monte are considering similar wage increases for supermarket employees.
Fong said firefighters, police officers, health care workers and others were also seen as vital employees during the pandemic, but grocers are the only companies targeted for additional wage mandates
“These regulations will not make workers safer,” he said.
Associate Alicia Robinson contributed to this report.