Retailers

Kroger Defends California Store Closures Following Hazard Pay Ordinances

Ralphs, Food 4 Less banners to shutter 25% of Long Beach stores
Photograph: Shutterstock

Last month, a number of California cities, including Long Beach, and Seattle proposed hazard pay ordinances, marking the first time such policies have been government mandated. In Long Beach, the ordinance required some grocery chains to provide front-line workers with a $4-an-hour hazard pay raise. Following Long Beach City Council’s approval of the ordinance, the Ralphs and Food 4 Less divisions of The Kroger Co. announced Feb. 1 that it would close 25% of its Long Beach stores.

“As a result of the city of Long Beach’s decision to pass an ordinance mandating extra pay for grocery workers, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close long-struggling store locations in Long Beach,” said a company spokesperson in response to WGB’s request for comment. “This misguided action by the Long Beach City Council oversteps the traditional bargaining process and applies to some, but not all, grocery workers in the city.”

Kroger further indicated that the Long Beach City Council’s mandate “does nothing to raise wages for the front-line workers the city employs.

Ralphs at 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal and a Food 4 Less store at 2185 E. South St. are the two Kroger-owned Long Beach locations scheduled to close on April 17.

“The irreparable harm that will come to employees and local citizens as a direct result of the city of Long Beach’s attempt to pick winners and losers is deeply unfortunate,” continued the company spokesperson. “We are truly saddened that our associates and customers will ultimately be the real victims of the city council’s actions.” 

Calling it a “ruthless attempt to deny grocery workers the hazard pay they have earned,” UFCW and its International President Marc Perrone have a different take on the matter.

“Since the pandemic began, Kroger has made billions in profits because of the sacrifices of grocery workers who have been putting their own health and safety on the line every day,” said Perrone in a statement. “Rather than provide the hazard pay these grocery workers have earned and deserve, Kroger decided to threaten these workers and the community’s access to food in the middle of a public health crisis.

“As America’s largest food and retail union, UFCW will use every tool available to ensure that Kroger follows the law and that our state and federal leaders hold companies accountable for flagrantly choosing to evade these vital workplace laws.”

Kroger said it has invested $1.3 billion to both reward associates and to implement dozens of safety measures since March. In addition to providing several rounds of rewards to all front-line grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates, the organization has invested to support associates through additional benefits such as paid emergency leave and the companies’ $15 million Helping Hands fund that provides financial support to associates experiencing certain hardships due to COVID-19. 

The company added that the extra pay provided was in addition to the total compensation package Ralphs and Food 4 Less have long offered to associates, including “competitive wages, strong healthcare coverage and a reliable pension benefit.

Kroger further notes that Ralphs and Food 4 Less remain committed to serving its communities and the company is “thankful for the dedicated associates who serve communities in California every day.

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