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LA Grocery Worker Law: New Owners Must Hire Workforce for 90 Days

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on July 20, 2011 6:46 AM

The California Supreme Court gave a boost to employees earlier this week, ruling 6-to-1 that a 2005 Los Angeles grocery worker law is not preempted by state law, federal labor code, or the Equal Protection Clause.

With worker retention ordinances, which are designed to prevent new business owners from laying off existing employees, popping up across the country in a variety of industries, one can only expect this decision to encourage more California cities to get in on the trend.

While these ordinances differ from city to city, Los Angeles' Grocery Worker Retention Ordinance enacts a 90 transition period on grocery stores 15,000 square feet or larger when they change ownership.

During this transition period, a new owner must hire from a list of employees with at least 6 months tenure, who may also only be fired for cause. Unionized workers may agree to an alternate arrangement.

The California Grocers Association sued the city, arguing that the ordinance is preempted by state Health & Safety and Labor Codes, the National Labor Relations Act, and the Equal Protection Clause.

The court disagreed with this assessment, pointing out that the ordinance does not deal with food safety or sanitation standards, and that the NLRA does not speak to the hiring and firing of employees.

As for equal protection, because grocers are not a protected group, the city must have only a rational basis for the restriction.

While Los Angeles was trying to prevent another rash of grocery layoffs, it reasoned that it is in the public's interest to have experienced workers handling food.

While the court's analysis appears to be quite sound, this may not be the end of Los Angeles' grocery worker retention ordinance. Because federal issues were at play, the Grocers Association can still make an appeal to the federal courts.

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