Thursday, March 6, 2008

Los Angeles Labor Ordinance Voided

Los Angeles Labor Ordinance Voided

By David Zahniser

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A judge calls unfair a law that delays firings when big supermarkets are taken over.

A Superior Court judge has struck down a 2005 law passed by the Los Angeles City Council that barred large supermarkets from taking over a store and immediately firing all its workers, an industry group said Tuesday.

The ruling was a victory for the California Grocers Assn., one of several business groups that have filed challenges against initiatives backed by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a pro-labor nonprofit that pushed the supermarket ordinance.

The alliance, which focuses heavily on bringing higher wages and greater benefits to low-income workers, has served as a driving force behind a variety of decision-making at City Hall.

Hotels are still in court over a Los Angeles law that the alliance sought to impose higher minimum wages at hotels near Los Angeles International Airport. And earlier this week, the trucking industry called on the federal government to overturn a clean-truck initiative backed by the alliance at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The pro-labor group served as a major player in the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, which has been lobbying for passage of the $2-billion port truck plan. And it intervened on behalf of the city of Los Angeles in the grocery lawsuit, which was passed in the wake of the protracted 2003 supermarket dispute between grocery chains and unions that opposed cuts in their workers' benefits.

Roxana Tynan, deputy director of the Alliance for a New Economy, said she was "99% positive" that the city would appeal the grocery ruling. Similar laws that apply to private janitors and public workers at Los Angeles International Airport already have withstood a challenge, she said.

"We're really hopeful that it's going to be upheld," Tynan added. "And the bottom line is, what possible damage exists in protecting those workers?"

More than two years ago, the City Council voted 11 to 2 to approve an ordinance requiring that every supermarket of more than 15,000 square feet must keep its workers for at least 90 days after a store takeover. When they voted, council members said they had a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of the public from poorly trained supermarket workers.

But in a ruling finalized last month, Superior Court Judge Ralph Dau called the law unconstitutional, saying it singles out larger markets while ignoring smaller ones.

"The city has advanced no justification for treating establishments 15,000 square feet and under differently than larger stores," Dau wrote.

Dave Heylen, a spokesman for the California Grocers Assn., said the law had a negative effect, discouraging some supermarket chains from expanding into the L.A. market.

Councilman Dennis Zine, who voted for the law, called it a way of protecting a vulnerable workforce: "I thought it was only fair to give them 90 days to find another job. What about their families? What about their other obligations?"

Although the grocery industry prevailed in its legal fight, 11 hotels around LAX have been less successful. A court recently upheld the council's decision to impose a higher minimum wage on the hotels.

Last month, the hotels asked the state Supreme Court to review the case, which focuses on the process used by Los Angeles to approve the living wage law. If the court refuses, there could still be a lawsuit challenging the living wage law itself.

"We believe that the same problems that the court found with the grocery ordinance applies to the hotel worker ordinance," said Ruben Gonzalez, a spokesman for the hotels.

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