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The state Supreme Court today upheld a Los Angeles ordinance that makes it more difficult for a large supermarket to fire the existing workforce after a change in ownership.

Siding with the California Grocers Association, two lower courts had said the ordinance was unconstitutional because it stepped on the toes of state and federal law. But the state Supreme Court reversed their decisions.

In 2005, the city of Los Angeles adopted an ordinance requiring incoming ownership of a recently sold grocery store larger than 15,000 square feet to maintain existing employees for at least 90 days. Owners must do thorough evaluations of the employees and may only fire people for cause during that period. Barring a poor review, the new owner was forced to "consider" hiring the employee permanently. Several other cities across the state later followed suit with similar ordinances.

Stores with a unionized workforce may use the 90-day period to reach a collective bargaining agreement.

The Grocers Association argued that store owners essentially lost their power to self-select workers. Grocers Association spokesman Dave Heylen said the association was still reviewing the ruling, but was extremely disappointed with it.

In its majority opinion, the Supreme Court wrote that "a new owner has the same freedom to choose employees without regard to union status or sentiment, and the same theoretical exposure to an unfair labor practice charge if it were to allow anti-union animus to enter its decision making, as it would without the Ordinance."

In a dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Beth Grimes of the the Second District Court of Appeal wrote that the ordinance "intrudes on the collective bargaining process in an extraordinary and fundamental way" by imposing "a government mandate that an employer hire either a particular worker or a specific group of workers based on a group characteristic."

Roxana Tynan, deputy director at the advocacy group LAANE, which appealed the original decision on behalf of L.A., called the decision "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."


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