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Ralphs And Food 4 Less Plan Store Closures In Long Beach Following City's New Grocery Worker Pay Mandate

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Grocery workers in Southern California demonstrate in front of a Food 4 Less store on Aug. 5, 2020. (UFCW 770)
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Ralphs and Food 4 Less have announced plans to close grocery stores in the city of Long Beach, in the wake of elected officials voting to require a temporary $4-per-hour pay bump for local grocery workers.

The grocery chains, both part of The Kroger Co., issued a statement on Monday saying two stores will permanently close on April 17. Ralphs will shut down its store at 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal and Food 4 Less will close a location at 2185 E. South Street.

In the emailed statement, a company spokesperson laid blame for the closures squarely on Long Beach's city council.

"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 spokesperson said. "We are truly saddened that our associates and customers will ultimately be the real victims of the city council's actions."

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GROCERY WORKERS UNION SAYS CLOSURES ARE 'RETALIATION'

A Ralphs spokesman said nearly 200 employees currently work at the two stores, and while some may be redirected to other locations, others may be laid off permanently.

Company officials described the two stores as "underperforming" and said the city's pay mandate left them with few options.

The local grocery workers' union argues the closures are meant as a form of corporate punishment toward workers demanding better pay during a raging pandemic.

"This is hostile retaliation against workers who have been on the frontlines since the beginning of the pandemic, going to work every day and taking tremendous risks," said Andrea Zinder, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers local 324.

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The union said it is now exploring legal options to fight the company's decision. Zinder said grocery chain profits have soared as consumers switched from dining out to shopping at grocery stores for homemade meals.

"Kroger has benefited greatly from the pandemic at their workers' expense," Zinder said. "And now they're not willing to compensate the employees for the risks that they're taking."

INDUSTRY WARNS OF FURTHER LAYOFFS IF POLICY SPREADS

Officials with the city of Long Beach said in an emailed statement, "Kroger's decision is unfortunate for workers, shoppers and the company." The city plans to connect laid off employees with a program that aids workers in securing unemployment benefits and finding new job placements.

Long Beach's policy was crafted to last for 120 days, giving workers a temporary hourly raise in recognition of the increased risk they have faced as COVID cases surged across Southern California this winter. Other local governments are considering similar proposals, including L.A. County and the city of L.A.

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The state's grocery industry has protested the pandemic pay policies, saying local officials are targeting grocers unfairly while ignoring other industries with public-facing workers. Industry leaders say L.A. County's proposal amounts to a 28% wage hike, which grocers could not afford without raising prices or reducing their workforce.

The California Grocers Association immediately sued the city of Long Beach over its ordinance, which is now in effect. A court hearing on whether or not to grant the industry a preliminary injunction is set for Feb. 19.