Two grocery stores in Southern California will shutter in April in response to a local “hero pay” measure requiring a $4-an-hour increase for grocery workers during the pandemic.
Kroger, which owns more than a dozen grocery chains, announced this week that it would close a pair of Long Beach stores — a Ralphs and a Food 4 Less — specifically citing the ordinance the city’s mayor signed into law late last month. The city was the first in the state to introduce a measure requiring some grocery retailers to give workers a temporary hourly pay bump during the pandemic.
“The irreparable harm that will come to employees and local citizens is a direct result of the City of Long Beach’s attempt to pick winners and losers,” the company said in a statement, calling it “deeply unfortunate.”
Kroger’s move to close the stores comes amid growing momentum for similar hazard pay policies in cities across the state, as well as elsewhere in the country. Officials in two other cities — the Oakland City Council and the Los Angeles City Council — voted unanimously on Tuesday to mandate temporary $5-per-hour pay increases for some grocery workers.
The Long Beach policy is in place for 120 days and includes groceries that sell at least 70 percent food products and employ more than 300 people nationally with at least 15 employees per store. Under those terms, it may exclude retailers like Target and Walmart.
Long Beach Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, who sponsored the measure, said she was “incredibly disappointed” in Kroger’s move to close stores.
“It really saddens me that they’d rather take away 200 jobs instead of doing the right thing, which is paying hazard pay for these local grocery store workers who risk their lives every day they come in and who are putting their lives on the line every second they’re working,” she told The Washington Post.
She said the closures will also have an impact on the communities they serve, noting that Food 4 Less serves many low-income residents in the area.
Experts and groups on both sides of the hazard pay debate are worried Kroger’s decision could signal a broader response.
Molly Kinder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies front-line workers, said it was notable that Kroger is closing two stores in the first city in California to introduce such a mandate.
“I have to interpret that this statement is meant to signal that more Krogers could close if this is expanded,” Kinder said, adding it seemed to “send a message that mandates could come with consequences…” The Washington Post