Kroger closing 2 California stores, blames new hazard pay order

Jami Ganz, New York Daily News
·2 min read

Kroger Co. will be closing two of its Southern California stores this spring following a city order mandating extra pay for grocery workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The company on Monday issued a statement announcing its plans to permanently close a “long-struggling” Ralphs and Food 4 Less, both in Long Beach, after the city’s “decision to pass an ordinance mandating Extra Pay for grocery workers,” the Press-Telegram reports.

Ralphs at 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal and the Food 4 Less at 2185 E. South St. will both close on April 17.

The company dismissed the city’s order as a “misguided action” that “oversteps the traditional bargaining process and applies to some, but not all, grocery workers in the city.”

Long Beach’s ordinance, approved unanimously last month, requires an extra $4 per hour of hazard pay for grocery stores with at least 300 employees around the country and over 15 Long Beach employees. As it stands, the order is in effect for 120 days.

Other Kroger-owned grocery stores could soon close as well, especially after nearby Montebello followed Long Beach’s example, with its own temporary wage increase in effect for 180 days. Los Angeles and Pomona are considering similar moves.

“These misguided mandates could put any struggling store in jeopardy of closure,” John Votava, corporate affairs director of Ralphs, told the outlet via email.

“These folks that are working at these markets and grocery stores are heroes,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said upon the ordinance’s approval.

“The Long Beach City Council put politics ahead of families and jobs in the middle of a pandemic,” said Ron Fong, president and CEO of the California Grocers Association — which filed a federal lawsuit against Long Beach, claiming the order unconstitutionally interferes with collective bargaining.

Fong said the closures were “entirely avoidable” while Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson was unsure the hazard pay was truly to blame.

“I don’t have a lot of time to sit back and pontificate about whether some corporate executive who made an extra billion dollars last year is upset about a City Council decision,” he told the outlet. “Our job is to keep providing for the residents.”