California’s Employment Hazard – WSJ


CORE employees are on hand to direct traffic at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles after it was turned into a COVID-19 drive-thru vaccination site on Jan. 15.


Sarah Reingewirtz/Zuma Press

Progressives are never content with their policy victories. Take California, where Democrats have already enacted a statewide $15 minimum wage. But now, even as businesses struggle with declining revenue from pandemic lockdowns, the state’s big city Democrats are mandating that employers increase pay for grocery and other frontline workers to $20 an hour or more.

The Los Angeles and Oakland city councils voted unanimously Tuesday to advance emergency ordinances requiring large grocery stores to offer workers an additional $5 per hour in “hazard pay” during the pandemic. Long Beach and Santa Monica have imposed similar wage mandates, and other cities including San Jose and Berkeley may soon follow.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is considering requiring hazard pay for workers in grocery stores, pharmacies and fast-food outlets. Pot dispensaries appear to be exempt, as they were from lockdowns. While California’s $15 minimum wage (currently $14) doesn’t take effect statewide until next January, it’s already mandated in most of these cities.

Democrats say essential workers must be compensated for the risk they take by going to work. The sentiment may be admirable, but it clashes with the reality of the pandemic economy and job market. Most covered businesses have taken precautions to protect workers, including installing plexiglass at checkout counters and requiring masks. They have also increased pay in part to compete with


as well as enhanced federal unemployment benefits of $300 a week.

Unlike Amazon, most of these businesses aren’t rolling in revenue. The pay mandates could increase their payroll by upward of 30%, and many can’t raise prices to cover the cost—especially in low-income neighborhoods. Supermarket chain


on Monday announced it is closing two stores in Long Beach because of the pay mandate.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which is pushing the mandates, howled that Kroger is trying to “intimidate and discourage workers from standing up and using their voice to create better working conditions and wages.’’ Unions aren’t used to being confronted so quickly by the economic damage from their demands.

As usual, politicians take the credit for mandating wages, but workers who lose their jobs pay the price.

Potomac Watch: Democrats rely on unions to get elected, and unions are therefore first in line to get their special-interest paybacks, hence the firing of Peter Robb, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. Images: Getty/Bloomberg Composite: Mark Kelly

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