City leaders, union representatives, community members and workers gathered at a local Food 4 Less on Wednesday, Feb. 3 condemning the Kroger Co.’s announcement that they will be closing two local grocery stores over temporary hazard pay.
“After all the hard work I’ve done to feed the needy families, and everything and risk my life and my family’s lives at home, and they don’t want to pay $4 extra an hour, for four little months, and then it’s over, what is the reason for this,” Robert Gonzales, a 26-year employee with Kroger said.
On Monday, Feb. 1 grocery company Kroger announced it will be closing two of its local stores — a Ralphs location in East Long Beach and a Food 4 Less in North Long Beach — in response to a city ordinance requiring a $4 “hero pay” salary boost for some workers.
The ordinance was passed unanimously at a city council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19 and applies to companies with 300 or more workers overall and more than 15 employees per location.
“This hero pay is a basic $4 increase for a limited amount of time to support the hard-working men and women that are in all of our grocery stores and supermarkets across the city,” Mayor Robert Garcia said.
This temporary salary boost is set to be in effect for four months.
Addressing the City’s decision, the Kroger Co. stated, “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.”
“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,” Kroger Co. said. “We are truly saddened that our associates and customers will ultimately be the real victims of the city council’s actions.”
The Kroger Co. reported over $2.6 billion in profits during their last three quarters from Feb. 2 to Nov. 7, according to a Brookings Institution analysis, of which they used $989 million for stock buybacks.
Meanwhile, Kroger Co’s average hourly wage nationwide for its cashier employees is $10. As of Jan. 1, 2021, the minimum hourly wage in Long Beach for employers with 25 or fewer employees is $13. For employers with 26 or more employees, the minimum hourly wage is $14.
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, one day after the council approved the hazard pay, the California Grocers Association filed a legal challenge to the ordinance, asking the court to declare the pending hazard pay degree invalid and unconstitutional.
They also stated that the hazard pay would not do anything to boost the safety of workers, but could actually lead to higher costs for consumers.
However, a judge declined to issue a restraining order blocking it from taking effect. Another hearing in the case is set for Feb. 19.
According to Kroger Co., the Ralphs store at 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal and the Food 4 Less store at 2185 E. South St. will close on April 17.
“To ask the North Long Beach community to make a choice: jobs with dignity or food on the table. That’s the unfair choice that the Kroger companies are issuing our community, a community of Black and Brown working families,” Vice Mayor Rex Richardson said.
“The city council was confronted with the decision. These workers deserve dignity, these workers deserve hazard pay,” Richardson said.
Several grocery workers and union representatives stood in support of one another, socially-distanced, holding signs that read “I went from being essential to sacrificial,” “protect the frontline, not the bottom line,” and “closing is retaliation against workers fighting for hazard pay.”
“Half my life I’ve worked with this company, it has been devastating that as of Monday, they want to shut the store down,” Gonzales said.
“You’re gonna hurt the elderly, the homeless people— we give donations every week to the homeless and needy families, and they want to take that away,” Gonzales said.
As the press conference ended the protesters proceeded to march in front of the Food 4 Less shouting “Stop corporate greed,” and “Kroger, Kroger, you’re no good, treat your workers like you should.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Kroger voluntarily instated the hero pay. That pay boost ended during the summer when the first surge subsided.
“It’s unfair, they’re [Kroger] doing it so others can get scared,” United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) representative Linda Martinez said. “Intimidation, fear is being instilled in workers when they’re being profitable, it’s a direct attack on workers, they deserve hazard pay.”