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Two Long Beach Grocery Stores Will Close On Saturday After Fight Over ‘Hero Pay’

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Outside an Aldi grocery store on Atlantic Ave. in Long Beach, signs read "heroes work here." Two stores run by Kroger are shutting down in the wake of a pay hike put in place by the city.
(Megan Garvey/LAist)
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Two grocery stores in Long Beach are set to close permanently on Saturday after parent company Kroger took issue with the city’s “hero pay” law.

Back in February, Kroger announced plans to close a Ralphs and a Food 4 Less, shortly after elected officials in Long Beach passed a temporary hazard pay mandate for large grocery chains.

The “hero pay” rules require larger employers to pay their frontline grocery workers an extra $4 per hour over four months. Proponents said the goal is to compensate employees who have faced enormous risk while working through the pandemic.

Kroger said the pay bump made it financially impossible to keep the two stores open. The company described both the Ralphs on N. Los Coyotes Diagonal and the Food 4 Less on E. South Street as “underperforming.”

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'Irreparable Harm'

“The irreparable harm that will come to employees and local citizens is a direct result of the City of Long Beach’s attempt to pick winners and losers, and is deeply unfortunate,” a Kroger spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The two stores employ about 150 workers. Kroger said it has offered to transfer all employees to other stores. While most workers will accept transfers, some could have a tough time getting to their new job, said Andrea Zinder, president of the local chapter of the UFCW grocery union.

For example, she said a long-term bakery clerk was told she’d have to split her job between two stores.

“She walks to work right now,” Zinder said. “She lives across the street. She’s going to have to go to two different stores and take several buses in order to keep her full-time status.”

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Union leaders say Kroger’s decision to close the two stores is “retaliation” for workers demanding better pay during the pandemic.

Kroger maintains the city overstepped its bounds, requiring a pandemic-related pay bump for some, but not all, essential workers. And the company insists the employee transfers are in line with union contracts.

Customers Will Have To Adjust To New Stores

In both neighborhoods, customers will have other stores nearby to fill the void.

But North Long Beach resident Norberto Lopez — a project director with the housing rights group Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE) — said with the Food 4 Less near his apartment closing, his nearest alternative will be a non-union store.

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“For me, the fact that Food 4 Less was a union store made a difference, because I knew I was supporting not just the store, but the workers,” Lopez said.

Kroger announced three more store closures in Los Angeles after elected officials in that city passed a temporary $5-per-hour “hero pay” mandate. Two L.A. Ralphs stores and one Food 4 Less are set to close on May 15.

The California Grocers Association has sued Long Beach and other cities in an attempt to overturn the ordinances.

“We hate to see any community lose a grocery store, but store closures are one of the unintended consequences we warned about before the ordinance passed,” CGA spokesperson Nate Rose said in an emailed statement.