Long Beach Ralphs, Food 4 Less stores set to close permanently this weekend amid dispute over ‘hero pay’

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Two Kroger grocery stores in Long Beach are set to close this weekend over the chain’s opposition to the city’s ordinance mandating an extra $4 per hour in hazard pay for grocery workers.

The chain announced in February it would shutter the Ralphs at 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal and the Food 4 Less at 2185 E. South St. on Saturday, April 17.

The decision came weeks after Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia signed the ordinance that put the pay increase in place for at least 120 days at stores with at least 300 employees nationwide or more than 15 employees per market in the city.

Another three Kroger grocery stores in the Los Angeles area, two Ralphs and one Food 4 Less, are set to close in mid-May:  

  • Ralphs: 9616 West Pico Blvd., in Pico-Robertson
  • Ralphs : 3300 West Slauson Ave., in Hyde Park
  • Food 4 Less – 5420 West Sunset Blvd., in East Hollywood

The so-called “hero pay” measures are meant to compensate front-line workers for the increased health risk they face during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Kroger says the pay bump made it impossible to keep the stores open. At the Ralphs on Los Coyotes Diagonal Friday, a “closeout sale” of 25% off or more was advertised and only a few items were left on store shelves.

“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 company said in a statement. “We are truly saddened that our associates and customers will ultimately be the real victims of the city council’s actions.”

But a labor union that represents 20,000 workers — among them grocery store employees — along the Central and Southern California coast says the closures are a blatant attack on essential grocery workers who risked their lives to maintain the community’s access to food.

UFCW Local 770 says its workers will potentially strike and call for a boycott against Food 4 Less if the company doesn’t accept its contract offer to replace the last agreement that expired in March.

“Food 4 Less can afford to treat us fairly but until now they’re refusing to do so,” Susan Hernandez, who works at a Food 4 Less in North Hollywood, said in a statement provided by the union. “The Company is treating us workers and the communities we serve as second class citizens and we need to change that.”

Long Beach resident Rick Loveall said he’s been shopping at the Long Beach Ralphs that’s set to close for 45 years.

“And then Kroger goes and says they can’t afford 4 bucks? Come on,” he told KTLA outside the store Friday.  

But Bill Burns, who’s also been going to the store for decades, said it was the wrong time to try to institute a pay increase.

“They have a business to run. Big or small, this is not the time to negotiate wages,” he said.

Kroger had issued a $2 pay boost at the start of the pandemic, and has said it spent about $1.3 billion to reward associates and implement dozens of coronavirus-related safety measures. But like most companies, Kroger ended the wage increases in June.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati-based Kroger’s profits increased 5.6% during 2020, reaching $2.6 billion, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

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