Grocers Association sues Montebello over ‘hero pay’ ordinance – Daily News

on Feb4
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The California Grocers Association, already suing Long Beach over its “hero pay” ordinance mandating extra pay for grocery workers, on Wednesday, Feb 3, filed similar federal lawsuits against Montebello and Oakland, which have passed their own versions of the law.

The lawsuits follow supermarket giant Kroger’s announcement it will close a Food for Less and a Ralphs on April 17, both in Long Beach, rather than pay the increases at the underperforming sites. Kroger owns no stores in Montebello.

The company said it decided to close those stores because of the Long Beach City Council’s vote last month to require large grocers to pay employees an extra $4 per hour for four months in recognition of the hazards they face working amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Oakland and Montebello lawsuits allege similar violations of law as in the Long Beach suit, which was filed on Jan.  20. The first hearing in the Long Beach case is set for Feb. 19.

The ordinance violates federal collective bargaining laws by having the city interfere with negotiations, William F. Tarantino, the association’s attorney wrote in the lawsuit.

Montebello’s law also improperly singles out certain grocery store businesses in the city for disparate treatment while not requiring the same treatment of similarly situated businesses, Tarantino said.

Michael Chee, spokesman for the city of Montebello, declined to comment, saying the city has not been notified or informed of any legal action.

At last week’s City Council meeting, councilmembers were warned the city might get sued and called such efforts a “scare tactic”

“That lawsuit is meant to harass,” Councilwoman Scarlet Peralta said of the Long Beach suit last week.

“The city of Montebello should not waver or really act in fear when it comes to protecting our workers,” Peralta said. “These companies have profited in the billions because of what’s going on. We need to make sure we’re doing what we can to help them in this time of pandemic seeing they are essential and exposing themselves everyday to COVID.”

Ron Fong, president and chief executive officer for the Grocers Association, in an emailed release said the extra-pay mandates violate federal and state law and will harm customers and workers.

“A $5 per hour mandate amounts to a 28 percent average increase in labor costs for grocery stores,” Fong wrote. “That is too big a cost increase for any grocery retailer to absorb without consequence. Options are few. Either pass the costs to customers, cut employee or store hours, or close.”

Other cities also are moving ahead with similar ordinances.

Pomona is expected to review a similar draft ordinance by March 1. And on Tuesday, the day after Kroger announced it would close the Long Beach markets, the Los Angeles City Council voted to move forward in the process of considering a temporary $5-per-hour wage bump for grocery workers.

On Wednesday, a rally was held to oppose the store closures.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, local labor leaders and Kroger employees spoke against the closures at a Food 4 Less in North Long Beach — one of the sites that Kroger plans to close in April.

“What we are witnessing is shameful,” Garcia said, “and we continue to stand with grocery workers.”

Staff writers Hayley Munguia and Brittany Murray contributed to this story.


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