Editorial: Coronavirus isn't an excuse to rush through far-reaching laws that hurt L.A.'s businesses

The Times Editorial Board
Los Angeles businesses have struggled with coronavirus closures.  (Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles City Council meeting schedule has been chaotic, at best. Last week Council President Nury Martinez canceled all meetings for the rest of the month amid concerns over how to congregate safely. Then she uncanceled Friday’s meeting in an attempt to push through a slew of proposals — some vetted, some not — to address the coronavirus emergency.

We get it. These are difficult times and city leaders are facing tremendous pressure to respond to the crisis.

But in the rush to act on some much-needed emergency measures, such as an eviction moratorium, the City Council is barely considering the implications of other, more far-reaching proposals. Take, for example, a proposed law that would essentially dictate how businesses operating in the city rehire employees after the crisis is over.

The so-called Covid-19 Right of Recall ordinance would apply to employers in the city of L.A. that generated more than $5 million in business in 2019 — and which lay workers off due to the pandemic and its fallout. Under the ordinance, when they are ready to start hiring again, they must first offer, in writing, the jobs to their laid-off employees, giving priority to those with the most seniority. The employees would have 10 days to decide whether to accept. The law would expire in March 2022.

The original proposal went further, prohibiting employers from laying off workers without cause, and requiring that any layoffs be conducted based on seniority. The current proposal is scaled back but it’s still a significant new government intrusion into businesses’ operations, and it will create strict, time-consuming and potentially burdensome new rules on businesses at a time when many will be struggling to survive.

Rules on seniority in layoffs and rehiring are common in union contracts. However, those contracts are negotiated and agreed upon by the employer and the employees — not dictated by the government. The city's role should be to develop policies and programs that support a robust economic environment in which many jobs are created and opportunities are plentiful, not necessarily to ensure that each individual laid-off employee can get his or her old job back.

The federal government’s $2.2-trillion coronavirus economic relief bill offers a better way to help workers and their bosses. The bill includes forgivable loans for small businesses that keep workers on the job or rehire those who get laid off.

In many cases, companies will want to rehire their old employees. It’s often much easier and cheaper to hire back experienced workers, rather than train new ones. The city has an interest in employers getting back to business as quickly and easily as possible. It’s best to help them do it rather than impose burdensome rules and regulations for how to do it.