In this calm before the storm, before the projected wave of coronavirus patients slams Southland hospitals, it’s the delivery drivers and grocery store workers who’ve become our unexpected heroes of the shutdown.
Each day they bare the crowds and the shoppers challenged at social distancing or unable to stand more than six-feet away during checkout. Now Los Angeles County leaders are stepping in to demand more protections for them.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to begin drafting an emergency ordinance requiring businesses to protect retail grocery, drug store and food delivery workers during the coronavirus pandemic. For thousands of workers risking their health under a patchwork of protective measures, the new law aims to streamline and strengthen those measures that businesses take to protect their workers.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn co-authored the motion proposing requirements for keeping stores clean and workers safe.
“In these difficult times, a visit to the grocery store makes extraordinarily clear that food and grocery delivery drivers are essential workers and we must do all that we can to protect them,” Ridley-Thomas said.
The motion calls for an ordinance that would require employers to sanitize and stock bathrooms with necessary supplies, clean stores and shopping carts between uses, provide security to enforce social distancing and provide access to COVID-19 testing, among other standards.
“In the middle of this global health emergency, our grocery store, delivery and drug store workers are now front-line responders,” Hahn said.
The motion comes after workers at Whole Foods and Instacart called strikes over health concerns.
In the absence of standards, stores have taken a piecemeal approach to safety, with some installing plexiglass shields and protective masks and others leaving employees to fend for themselves.
“We are demanding access to protective gear and training on how to use it properly to keep us safe,” Deandre Williams, a cashier at Ralphs, said in a statement issued by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770. “The big grocery companies are not stepping up and making sure every single grocery and pharmacy worker is safe.”
UFCW Local 770’s president said he hoped Los Angeles County would lead the way for the state as a whole to impose standards.
“We still do not have uniform standards across all grocery stores and pharmacies to protect workers and customers. Grocery workers are essential and they need basic protections no matter where they are working,” UFCW Local 770 President John Grant said. “We need this level of immediate action to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
In addition to brick-and-mortar grocery stores that remain open, many people following stay-at-home orders have turned to online food delivery services. The anticipated ordinance would also cover shoppers and delivery people for companies like Instacart, DoorDash and Shipt.
The motion calls for those companies to be required to register with the county and report the number of working drivers. Companies could be prohibited from penalizing or retaliating against workers during the emergency, while workers would be allowed to initiate “non-contact” deliveries.
The board directed its lawyers to draft an emergency ordinance considering all of the above requirements and more. Any such ordinance would sunset after the coronavirus crisis has passed.