L.A. County approves ‘hero pay’ of $5 an hour for grocery store workers

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Hundreds of grocery store workers in unincorporated Los Angeles County will receive $5 an hour in hazard pay on top of their regular wages as part of the county’s “hero pay” mandate that goes into effect Friday and lasts 120 days.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to mandate the pay bump for publicly traded grocery store or retail drug companies, or companies that have at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store site. The measure applies only to unincorporated areas, benefiting about 2,500 hourly grocery store workers.

“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,” Supervisor Hilda Solis, who authored the motion, 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.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger voted against the measure, saying she felt that it leaves out many essential workers and that it could have unintended consequences.

Barger said officials have worked hard to bring retailers to food deserts in unincorporated areas, such as Grocery Outlet in Altadena, which has donated food for food drives during the pandemic.

“I would hate to think we’re driving [out of business] the very businesses we fought so hard to locate in unincorporated areas, many of which are working class neighborhoods … and that’s why I can’t vote for this,” said Barger, the only Republican on the board.

Since January, several cities, including Santa Monica, San Jose, Berkeley and West Hollywood, have considered or passed some level of hazard pay mandates.

The county’s ordinance will probably be challenged in court in the coming days by the California Grocers Assn., which has sued the city of Long Beach after it passed its “hero pay” measure.

Read the complete article here.

San Jose passes mandatory $3-an-hour pay raise for grocery workers

From today’s San Jose Mercury News:

Thousands of San Jose grocery store workers will soon receive a $3-an-hour boost on their paychecks, as San Jose became the latest city to pass a new ordinance compelling large grocers to offer their employees  hazard pay for their high risk of catching COVID-19 at work.

The San Jose City Council voted 7-3 Tuesday night for a new ordinance temporarily requiring corporate grocery stores, chain supermarkets and retail stores that sell groceries and employ at least 300 people nationwide to pay workers an additional $3 an hour on top of their regular wages. The ordinance will last for 120 days after it goes into effect. Small businesses and franchises with less than 300 employees are exempt.

The ordinance failed to clear a requirement that it must be backed by at least eight members of the council to become effective immediately. Instead, the majority vote means that the new ordinance will be enacted in about two months.

Councilman Sergio Jimenez, who crafted the ordinance, said he had hoped that it would have garnered more support but was nonetheless pleased that the city will provide relief to front line grocery workers.

“I feel strongly that this is the right thing to do in my gut,” Jimenez said. “And I’m hoping that in 120 days, the sky didn’t fall, stores didn’t close, the economy is looking up and these companies continue to do well.”

San Jose will soon join the cities of Oakland, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Seattle, which have all passed similar ordinances in recent weeks to mandate increased wages for grocery store workers. Santa Clara County will vote later this month on a $5-an-hour boost on the paychecks of workers in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants everywhere in the county, except for San Jose.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members Dev Davis and Matt Mahan voted against the ‘hazard pay’ legislation Tuesday night, citing an inadequate analysis of the possible financial effects, concerns over potential store closings and increased grocery prices and a disagreement over exactly which companies should be affected by the legislation. Councilmember Pam Foley recused herself from the vote because she holds stock in Amazon, the owner of Whole Foods, which would be affected by the ordinance.


Read the complete story here.

Fashion Nova’s Secret: Underpaid Workers in Los Angeles Factories

From today’s New York Times:

Fashion Nova has perfected fast fashion for the Instagram era. The mostly online retailer leans on a vast network of celebrities, influencers, and random selfie takers who post about the brand relentlessly on social media. It is built to satisfy a very online clientele, mass-producing cheap clothes that look expensive.

“They need to buy a lot of different styles and probably only wear them a couple times so their Instagram feeds can stay fresh,” Richard Saghian, Fashion Nova’s founder, said in an interview last year.

To enable that habit, he gives them a constant stream of new options that are priced to sell. The days of $200 jeans are over, if you ask Mr. Saghian. Fashion Nova’s skintight denim goes for $24.99. And, he said, the company can get its clothes made “in less than two weeks,” often by manufacturers in Los Angeles, a short drive from the company’s headquarters.

That model hints at an ugly secret behind the brand’s runaway success: The federal Labor Department has found that many Fashion Nova garments are stitched together by a work force in the United States that is paid illegally low wages. Los Angeles is filled with factories that pay workers off the books and as little as possible, battling overseas competitors that can pay even less. Many of the people behind the sewing machines are undocumented, and unlikely to challenge their bosses.

“It has all the advantages of a sweatshop system,” said David Weil, who led the United States Labor Department’s wage and hour division from 2014 to 2017.

Every year, the department investigates allegations of wage violations at sewing contractors in Los Angeles, showing up unannounced to review payroll data, interview employees and question the owners.

In investigations conducted from 2016 through this year, the department discovered Fashion Nova clothing being made in dozens of factories that owed $3.8 million in back wages to hundreds of workers, according to internal federal documents that summarized the findings and were reviewed by The New York Times.

Read the complete article here.

LAUSD teachers union and school district reach tentative deal to end strike

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Los Angeles teachers are poised to end their first strike in 30 years after union leaders reached a tentative deal Tuesday with the L.A. Unified School District.

The Board of Education is expected to move quickly to ratify the deal, which must be officially approved by United Teachers Los Angeles through a vote of its members.

Union leaders have said they will not end the strike until their members ratify a contract, but also said they have a system in place that could allow members to vote within a matter of hours. That means teachers are likely to be back at work on Wednesday.

Regardless, schools will be open on Tuesday, managed by skeleton staffs of administrators and employees who are not on strike, just as they were last week. More than two-thirds of students did not come to campuses during the first week of the strike.

Read the complete article here.

No agreement to avert L.A. teachers’ strike after a long day of bargaining

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A last-ditch bargaining effort to avert a Los Angeles teachers’ strike fell short Monday, although the two sides have agreed to meet again on Wednesday morning, the day before a strike is scheduled to begin.

No agreement to avert L.A. teachers’ strike after a long day of bargaining

Whether the strike starts on schedule could depend more, however, on legal maneuvers that will play out on Tuesday.

In a twist, it is the union that is going to Los Angeles Superior Court over whether it followed the rules. The union’s goal is to preempt the district from going to court on the same issue after a strike begins. Were that to happen, a judge could shut down the strike for several days, killing its momentum and perhaps making union leaders look — to the public and their members — inept.

UTLA is expected to argue that it has provided ample notice of its intent to strike. The union publicly announced its Jan. 10 strike date on Dec. 19.

Read the complete article here.

Local: Jobs and work support could curtail LA’s stubborn homeless crisis

From today’s LA Times:

Providing jobs and other aid to Los Angeles County residents soon after they land in the streets could help prevent 2,600 to 5,200 people a year from falling into persistent homelessness, according to a new study from a liberal think tank.

The “Escape Routes” study from the nonprofit Economic Roundtable zeroes in on a key dilemma in Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis: Even as officials have moved 33,000 homeless people into permanent housing since 2013 and launched a $1.2-billion construction program, high rents, job loss and medical crises continue to push people out of their homes.

Without early intervention, thousands of these people will become mired in chronic homelessness, deepening the region’s stubborn problem, the study found.

“Housing alone is not enough to end homelessness. The steady flow of new people into chronic homelessness keeps moving the goalposts back,” Dan Flaming, president of Economic Roundtable, said in a statement.

The researchers combined 26 data sources — including county healthcare and social services records, the U.S. Census and homeless counts and demographic surveys — to sketch what experts called a novel portrait of people at risk of falling into chronic homelessness, as well as recommendations of how to help them.

For several years running, Los Angeles has topped the nation in chronically homeless people, with 16,576 in the 2017 count, the most recent available.

Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor and a leading researcher of homeless demographics, said one of the most important findings was that 150,000 people in L.A. County are homeless in a year, although many resolve their crises on their own.

Because more than three-quarters of L.A.’s homeless people live outdoors in camps or vehicles, the official homeless count — a three-day snapshot of people living in the streets and shelters — has always been suspect, Culhane said.

The study says the number of people languishing in homelessness can be reduced, but not without a big investment. Many homeless people are eager to work, particularly those with children, but they need childcare, transportation, temporary housing, training and in some cases government-funded jobs to bring them into the work force, study said.

Read the complete article here.

LA Times journalists vote to unionize

From today’s LA Times:

Journalists at the Los Angeles Times have overwhelmingly elected to form a union, a first for the 136-year-old news organization that for much of its history was known for its opposition to organized labor.

The union drive was launched publicly in October and culminated in an election earlier this month. Results, tallied Friday by the National Labor Relations Board, show workers voted 248 to 44 to be represented by the Washington, D.C.-based NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America.

“We respect the outcome of the election and look forward to productive conversations with union leadership as we move forward,” said Marisa Kollias, spokeswoman for Tronc Inc., The Times’ parent. “We remain committed to ensuring that the Los Angeles Times is a leading source for news and information and to producing the award-winning journalism our readers rely on.”

Guild organizer Kristina Bui, a copy editor at The Times, said: “This was a long time coming, and we’re all thrilled that this has finally happened. The newsroom has put up with so much disruption and mismanagement, and this vote just underscores how much of a say we need to have in the decision-making process. The newsroom is demanding a seat at the bargaining table.”

Read the complete article here.

Op-Ed: Should we set up New Deal-style work camps for the needy?

From today’s LA Times:

They are sending out emergency calls for shoes, underwear, sleeping garments, household equipment, mattresses, springs and bedding,” a Los Angeles Times story reported from Southern California. Do-gooders were doing what they could to help the destitute. “They have no sanitation,” a volunteer said. “No running water. Before the storms this week, we had set into motion a campaign in their behalf.”

The above reads like an article about the homeless from this month’s California section. But the dispatch actually dates from 1938, and the needy were the most mythologized of Golden State refugees: the Okies. Some 16,000 had settled in Montebello and Bell Gardens, the Times wrote, and the “distress … [was] terribly acute.”

Dust Bowl migrants have been on my mind recently, mostly because I just finished “California and the Dust Bowl Migration” by Walter J. Stein, a 1973 book that’s one of the earliest academic surveys about how that momentous exodus changed the state. It’s a great, if dry, read, and the Canadian professor puts more blame on the New Deal for pushing Oklahomans from their farms than he should.

But the book offered me perspective. The most recent estimate of California’s homeless population, by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual Point in Time Census, is 114,000. That number pales in comparison with the estimated 350,000 Okies who flooded California, mostly during the second half of the Great Depression. And, despite initial hiccups, we came out of it just fine.

Stein’s tome also provides a way forward: workers’ camps. Yes, that sounds politically incorrect, somehow, but stay with me.

The Farm Security Administration (FSA) built about 15 such camps to house Okies who were getting booted out of the shantytowns known as Hoovervilles. The government-sponsored camps were refuges from hate, with running water and clean living quarters and an ordered way to find work. Most even printed monthly newsletters. They sprang up in the Imperial Valley and Sonoma, the Central Valley and near Indio. Only one remains in operation: the Sunset Labor Camp just outside Bakersfield, which served as the inspiration for the Rooseveltian eden that the Joads find in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Now’s the time to bring them back, especially since Orange County officials plan to evict the hundreds of homeless along the biking trails of the Santa Ana River, within eyesight of the 57 and 5 freeways. Similar schemes are in the works across the state. Advocates are already warning that the homeless will have nowhere to go: There’s not nearly enough shelter space, and many are in no condition to reenter society, which means they will set up their tents in residential neighborhoods, whose inhabitants will just call the cops and offer no help.

Read the complete article here.

For workers, voters, and consumers: SB384 to extend last call to 4am in CA

From today’s Los Angeles Times Editorial Board:

Last call in California is 2 a.m. That’s when bars, restaurants, nightclubs and any other businesses licensed for on-site liquor sales are legally bound to stop serving alcohol, and that’s when most of those establishments close for the night.

Why 2 a.m.? That’s just the way it’s been in California for the last 80 years, ever since the 21st Amendment ended the national prohibition on alcohol and states were left to set their own laws governing its sale and distribution.

California picked 2 a.m. as the appropriate time to stop pouring libations. So did Colorado, Iowa, Texas and about two dozen other states. Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia picked 3 a.m., while Alaska, Illinois and New York settled on 4 a.m. Several states, including Nevada and New Jersey, have no state limits at all on when alcohol can be sold. Many states also give cities and counties the flexibility to set their own local rules on alcohol sales. That’s why New Orleans bars can stay open 24 hours a day, while bars in nearby Baton Rouge have to close at 2 a.m.

The point is that there’s no firm science behind last-call laws, no data that prove that 2 a.m. is better than 4 a.m or 6 a.m. or any other time. The laws are more a reflection of a state’s history, its cultural practices and its politics. California is still hewing to a 1935 law dictating that alcohol sales stop from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., and that blanket prohibition no longer makes sense for cities with thriving music and nightlife scenes that compete for investment and tourism with the likes of New York City, Las Vegas and other late-night cities.

It’s time to give local governments more control over when, where and how alcohol is served. A city like Los Angeles, for instance, shouldn’t have to shut down its bars early each night in deference to a fusty, 80-year-old law. Letting responsible establishments in appropriate neighborhoods stay open later would help create a fun, bustling, vibrant, big-city atmosphere attractive to younger people and tourists — while also generating tax revenue, creating jobs and increasing the earnings of small businesses.

Senate Bill 384 would have California follow the lead of other states that have allowed cities and counties more authority to set rules on closing times. The bill would establish a process by which the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would allow certain bars, restaurants and nightclubs to sell alcohol between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. — if, and only if, the local government wants to allow extended hours.

There would be lots of hoops to jump through. The City Council or local governing body would have to submit a plan to the department that identifies when and where extended hours would be allowed, how law enforcement authorities would manage the effects and what transportation services would be available. The local authorities could decide to limit extended hours to certain commercial districts only, say, or to allow them only on weekends. The department would need to sign off on the plan. Then individual businesses would need to apply for permission from the ABC, which would require notifying law enforcement and residents within 500 feet of the establishment.

The hoops are designed to address concerns from law enforcement and community activists, who have successfully killed previous efforts to relax the 2 a.m. cutoff amid fears that later hours will lead to more drunk driving and raucous partying. Those are legitimate concerns, although advocates for the bill note that of the 10 states with the highest DUI-related fatalities, only three allow alcohol service after 2 a.m.

The reality is 2 a.m. is unnecessarily early for communities with busy restaurants, music venues and clubs, such as downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and San Francisco. Why should bars close at 2 a.m., especially if law enforcement can handle the additional patrols and taxis and ridesharing apps, like Lyft and Uber, give revelers more options to get home without a car? State lawmakers should support SB 384 and let cities and counties set a last call that works for locals.