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Scott Steepleton, Editor
11:05 am PDT April 13, 2021

Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version.

Three months after Long Beach became the first city in America to mandate “hazard pay” for grocery workers, the city of Malibu has done the same.

The measure before the five-member City Council Monday night, adopted by unanimous vote, orders temporary additional pay of $5 per hour for employees working “frontline positions in grocery retail and drug retail establishments” in the city.

“Ordinarily, I am opposed to government regulation of the economic relationship between private employers and employees and prefer to see the free market and labor relations forces play themselves out,” council member Bruce Silverstein said. “In this instance, however, I am struck by the unfair position that the relatively few grocery and pharmacy employees in Malibu find themselves in view of the ordinances adopted by L.A. County and so many nearby cities — especially when the risks to which the frontline workers in Malibu include exposure to multiple residents of areas outside of Malibu who regularly visit our city from areas in which hero pay ordinances have been adopted, and many of which have failed to employ the type of health-related precautions advised by health officials.”

Since March 2020, businesses in Malibu have been hammered by closures, openings, reopenings with limited capacity and mandated reductions in services, all imposed by the state of California and the County of Los Angeles in the name of public safety.

But grocery and other such businesses were classified as essential early on, and employees in these businesses have been working with the public the entire time.

The union-backed hero pay movement is intended to reward the employees for keeping their communities fed.

The ordinance will remain in effect for as long as the Los Angeles County Hero Pay Ordinance remains in effect. That measure is set to expire on June 26, unless extended by the county.

Other jurisdictions in the state to adopt hero pay requirements include the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Coachella, and Los Angeles County and Santa Clara County.

Some grocers have instituted their own version of hero pay. But the amounts, in some cases $2 per hour, have been called too little by employee groups and some in government.

Subsequent to the Long Beach vote, Kroger Co. closed one each of its Ralphs and Food 4 Less stores in that city. In Los Angeles, subsequent to the vote mandating hero pay, the company announced the closure of three Ralphs stores there.

In each case, the closure was blamed on underperformance.

Malibu is home to a Ralphs store.

CVS also operates in Malibu. In May 2020, the Woonsocket, RI, company announced bonuses of $150 to $500 for pharmacists “and certain other health care professionals on the frontlines, store associates and managers, and other site-based hourly employees.”

The bonuses were said to be “in recognition of the essential role CVS Health employees are playing as the country faces the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Silverstein highlighted the number of people who have worked many years at the local Ralphs and the store’s low employee turn-around.

“I know many of the employees and they know me,” he said. “That is one of the reasons I believe it be unfair to them that they are not covered by hero pay ordinances adopted in so many other locations in this area, and the last thing I want is to see them harmed by the adoption of such an ordinance in Malibu.”

Silverstein encouraged Kroger, despite the council action, to confirm its “continued commitment to the Malibu community.”