Two grocery stores in Long Beach will close in April in response to the City Council’s recent vote to mandate extra pay for grocery workers amid the pandemic.
The Kroger Co., which owns Ralphs and Food 4 Less, announced Monday, Feb. 1, that it will close a Ralphs in East Long Beach, 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal, and a Food 4 Less in North Long Beach, 2185 E. South St., on April 17.
“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 company said in a statement. “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.”
The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance last month, which requires grocery stores with at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 15 employees in Long Beach to pay workers an extra $4 per hour as a form of hazard pay to recognize the burden grocery workers face amid the coronavirus pandemic. The ordinance is currently set to last 120 days.
City officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the announcement from The Kroger Co.
But when the City Council approved the wage bump, they spoke about how grocery workers put their lives on the line to ensure Long Beach residents continue to have access to the food and basic supplies their stores provide. Council members and Mayor Robert Garcia referenced the fact that many grocery stores voluntarily offered hazard pay early on in the pandemic but phased it out over the summer.
“These folks that are working at these markets and these grocery stores are heroes,” Garcia said in the Jan. 19 council meeting when the ordinance was approved. “This is nothing new. They have received this type of additional pay in the past and if they deserved it in the past, they deserve it today.”
The decision to close what amounts to 25% of Ralphs and Food 4 Less locations in Long Beach isn’t the only blowback the city has seen from its decision to pass the ordinance. The California Grocers Association announced the day after the council’s vote that it had filed a federal lawsuit against the city.
The lawsuit alleges that Long Beach’s ordinance is unconstitutional because it interferes with the collective bargaining process between grocery stores and the unions that represent their frontline workers. The city, meanwhile, has argued that the ordinance does not interfere with the process and is similar to other wage bumps that courts have upheld.
The courts have yet to weigh in on the California Grocers Association’s lawsuit, so it seems one of the most immediate consequences of the new ordinance is the closure of two major grocery stores in the city.
“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,” The Kroger Co.’s statement said. “We are truly saddened that our associates and customers will ultimately be the real victims of the city council’s actions.”
Grocery workers, though, have said the city’s ordinance is a necessary corrective to the fact that throughout most of the public-health crisis, they have continued to work and have not received adequate financial compensation for doing so.
Christina Mejia, who works for Food 4 Less, was one of dozens of grocery workers who called into City Council meetings while the panel weighed the ordinance. She said she and her colleagues worry daily about the possibility of catching the coronavirus.
“I believe me and my coworkers deserve hazard pay after almost a year of enduring these hard times, where this silent, deadly virus is among us,” she said during the Jan. 19 meeting. “Just last week alone, my store had 18,927 customers. Many of those customers can be carrying the virus.
“Hazard pay shouldn’t be a question or a debate. This is something we deserved from the start,” Mejia added. “It should be people over profits, not profits over people.”