Long Beach set to require some sick pay, protect certain laid-off workers during COVID-19 fallout

The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday advanced a package of worker protections that requires certain employers to provide sick pay and mandates that laid-off workers in some sectors must be first in line for rehire.

The moves come as city officials try to prop up the local economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief among the changes were three emergency ordinances that the council ordered the city attorney’s office to start drafting.

One ordinance would require businesses with 500 or more employees nationally to offer 80 hours of paid sick leave for workers who are impacted by COVID-19. The change would apply to some franchises assuming that they have a presence in Long Beach and also employ 500 or more people under the same local corporation. It would not apply to businesses that are currently closed or to employees who were already laid off.

Two other emergency ordinances would apply to the hospitality and janitorial sectors. Under the first, if there’s a change of ownership, the new operator would be required to retain current workers for a certain period of time. Under the second, employees who were put out of work due to shutdowns or decrease in business during the pandemic must have an opportunity to be first in line when hotels and janitorial businesses begin to reopen.

These ordinances were made retroactive to March 1, three days before a state of emergency was declared in California. They will still require formal votes by the council once they’re completed by the city attorney’s office.

“We’re expanding sick leave for workers impacted by the coronavirus, ensuring the right to return to work for those in the hardest hit industries and we’re further protecting workers on the front lines of this crisis,” Councilman Rex Richardson said.

The actions stem from a report council members including Richardson requested from city staff about ways they could help local businesses and employees during the coronavirus crisis.

Tuesday’s vote came with its own additional requests: There will be an update within 90 days on the steps taken by the council Tuesday night as well as a report on how the worker-retention efforts could be targeted toward hiring back residents of the city first.

While the vote was unanimous to advance the measures, there were some minor disagreements among council members as to which businesses would be included under the paid sick leave component and when these emergency measures would end.

Some council members felt that the paid sick leave changes should apply to lone franchise owners who are part of a much larger employer network nationwide. Others objected because, depending on how ownership is defined, some franchise owners could be impacted while very similar businesses with the same amount of employees could be exempted.

“To count them as an employer of 500 when they actually have 100, it’s very, very scary for me,” Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said of the prospect that some small fast food chains could have been required to provide COVID-19 paid sick leave.

Councilwoman Suzie Price tried to create a sunset clause for when these actions would fade away by suggesting that happen 90 days after the governor rescinds the state of emergency. That amendment ultimately failed.

“We know that that emergency is based not on economic stability but it’s based on health,” Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce said. “It’s important that employers have as long as they need to try and bring back those employees.”

The council’s package of changes also included guidelines for city staff to continue to work with local grocers and other essential businesses to educate them about required personal protective equipment that must be supplied for workers.

It also gave direction for city staff to seek out programs to increase tourism, seek out mortgage relief assistance for property owners to avoid foreclosures, help assist with employment assistance, potentially develop a small loan program for local businesses, and assist developers in finishing projects already underway in the city.

The council also formally adopted its eviction moratorium that will run through the end of May and allow renters to put off rental payments between now and then until the end of November.

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.