Hero Pay and Increased Vaccination Availability Offer Hope During the Pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, frightened Southlanders stormed the supermarkets, stocking up on everything from toilet paper and disinfectant to frozen dinners and bottled water. This madhouse was also a common scene across the nation as people—without even knowing what was to come and how long it would last—panicked to care for themselves and their families.
Eyes were glued to TV screens as if perhaps newscasters had a true grasp about what we were facing and would offer a glimmer of hope about a valid solution.
Now, a year later, we all know those hopeful thoughts of a quick end to our new normal did not materialize, and we had no idea of the tragedies the coming months would bring.
Grocery store workers—deemed essential as they keep the food chain moving—were among the hardest hit from the very beginning. The stores never closed, and they were there—day and night—stocking shelves, bagging groceries and putting their lives on the line. And they paid a heavy price to keep their jobs, particularly during the fall and winter when the surge was devastating.
According to the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770, 5,500 union and nonunion grocery store workers have been infected with the virus since the start of the pandemic through the end of February 2021.
With such stats front and center in their minds, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors authorized a pay bump of $5 an hour for all non-managerial employees at grocery, drug or certain retail stores, such as Target and Walmart, in unincorporated Los Angeles County in addition to their regular wages. This "Hero Pay" mandate went into effect on February 26 and lasts 120 days. The Los Angeles City Council also approved such a mandate, which will need Mayor Eric Garcetti's signature to go into effect.
"These workers…have put their lives on the line since the beginning of the pandemic to keep our food supply chain running and provide access to medicine our families need," Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement. "Many are working in fear and without adequate financial support, while their employers continue to see profits grow and top executives receive steep pay bonuses."
Not everyone agrees with Solis' sentiment. The California Grocers Association filed a lawsuit to overturn a Long Beach ordinance mandating a $4 per hour Hero Pay for supermarket workers. The organization said that such a directive was invalid and unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II disagreed and refused to block the Hero Pay hike.
Wright's support of grocery store workers is echoed by John Grant, president of UFCW 770, who said in a statement that, "Each passing day without hazard pay our members face tremendous risks on the job, all while contributing to the record profits chain grocery stores make as they remain open and busy."
Some city councils in Orange County have also passed emergency Hazard Pay ordinances, and others are expected to follow suit.
This is a positive sign, and with the increase in the numbers of vaccines available and the widening of the eligibility guidelines, many are feeling increasingly hopeful. "Vaccine eligibility is an ever-changing and more encompassing threshold," says Amy Leung, a partner in the law firm of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP. "If you visit California's vaccine information center you can check on your eligibility. Presently healthcare workers, long-term care residents, individuals 65 years of age and older as well as those working in agriculture and food, education and childcare, and emergency services are eligible. This undoubtedly will continue to include more people and individuals of varying ages.
"We have come a long way since last year at this time, and if we remain vigilant, we should see continued positive change."