2 California supermarkets closing after city orders pay hike

Business

FILE- In this June 15, 2017, file photo, bagged purchases from a Kroger grocery store sit in a shopping cart in Flowood, Miss. Kroger Co. will close two supermarkets in Southern California in response to a local ordinance requiring extra pay for certain grocery employees working during the coronavirus pandemic. The decision announced by the company Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, follows a unanimous vote last month by the Long Beach City Council mandating a 120-day increase of $4 an hour for employees of supermarkets with at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 15 in Long Beach. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Kroger Co. will close two Southern California supermarkets in response to a local ordinance requiring extra pay for certain grocery employees working during the pandemic.

The decision announced by the company Monday follows a unanimous vote last month by the Long Beach City Council mandating a 120-day increase of $4 an hour for employees of supermarkets with at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 15 in Long Beach.

Kroger said it will close a Ralphs market and a Food 4 Less on April 17, the Press-Telegram reported.

“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.

The statement added: “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.”

A city statement characterized Kroger’s decision as “unfortunate for workers, shoppers and the company.”

A similar hazard pay wage increase has been approved by the city of Montebello and is being considered in Los Angeles, Pomona, Oakland, San Jose and other San Francisco Bay Area cities.

Last week, Santa Clara County supervisors voted to draft an ordinance for a $5 hourly raise for some essential workers, including grocery store workers. It could come up for a vote next week.

A lawsuit filed by the California Grocers Association claims that the Long Beach ordinance interferes with the collective bargaining process between grocery stores and unions representing workers.

An association official said Monday that an increase of $4 an hour represents about a 28% increase in labor costs.

“There’s no way grocers can absorb that big of a cost increase without an offset somewhere else, considering grocers operate with razor thin margins and many stores already operate in the red,” the association’s president and CEO Ron Fong said in a statement.

The Long Beach ordinance was approved during a Jan. 19 meeting in which council members and Mayor Robert Garcia said that many grocery stores gave employees hazard pay during the early stages of the pandemic but later phased it out.

“These folks that are working at these markets and these grocery stores are heroes,” Garcia said at the time. “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 Los Angeles proposal advanced Tuesday with a City Council vote in favor of the city attorney drafting an ordinance that calls for $5 an hour in extra hazard pay for workers at large grocery and drug retail chains. The council asked that the draft be presented as soon as possible for a final vote.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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