Crime & Justice

Calif. Supreme Court rules in favor of law protecting LA grocery workers

Vons sign
Vons sign
Thomas Hawk/Flickr (Creative Commons-licensed)

A Los Angeles city law designed to protect the jobs of grocery workers is legally enforceable, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The California Grocers Association sued the city after it adopted the 2005 grocery "worker retention" ordinance, which limits a company's ability to replace workers following an ownership change. The group argued the law is pre-empted by federal labor laws, conflicts with state health and safety laws and improperly dictates rules of employment.

The high court decided 6-1 that the law is "fully consistent" with state and federal laws, reversing two lower court rulings against the law.

"This is an important victory for tens of thousands of grocery workers who now don't have to worry about losing their jobs simply because of a corporate ownership change," said Roxana Tynan, deputy director of Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which intervened in the case to defend the ordinance.

The law requires new owners to hire the stores' current staffs for at least 90 days. The law is one of several California laws requiring companies to keep existing workforces after buying other companies, reports the Los Angeles Times. Opponents complain laws like this could proliferate with approval by the state's top court, keeping businesses from bringing in their own teams.

A call and email message seeking comment from the association, which represents 500 members with about 6,000 food stores in California and Nevada, was not immediately returned.

Court of Appeal Justice Elizabeth A. Grimes, who dissented, argued the ordinance violated federal labor law and invited the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.

She wrote that the high court has long recognize the freedom of every company and union to reach agreement, or not, in their negotiation of the terms and conditions of employment. She considered the ordinance a "truly extraordinary intrusion upon the freedom of contract, one that threatens to upend the very foundation of our national labor laws and policies." Grimes is a Los Angeles-based jurist, filling a vacancy on the state high court.

The law only affects grocery stores that are at least 15,000 square feet. It applies to both unionized and nonunionized grocers.

A California Grocers Association spokesman said it had yet to decide whether to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, according to the Los Angeles Times.

This story incorporates information from the Associated Press.