LONG BEACH, Calif. - Ralphs and Food 4 Less, both owned by the parent company Kroger, announced Monday that they will be closing 25% of their stores in Long Beach after the city council passed an ordinance requiring companies with over 300 employees nationwide to pay employees an extra $4 per hour.
"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," said a company spokesperson. "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."
There was no was no immediate response to a request for comment from the city. Mayor Robert Garcia was a major proponent of the ordinance. Before signing the measure, he wrote on Twitter that grocery workers "have been on the front lines of this pandemic and deserve this support."
According to Kroger, the Ralphs store at 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal and the Food4Less store at 2185 E. South St. will close on April 17.
The city council unanimously approved the wage increase on Jan. 19 to compensate grocery store workers for the dangers they face in serving the public during the coronavirus pandemic. The ordinance was tentatively approved, and a final vote is scheduled for Feb. 2.
The ordinance would be in place for at least 120 days, after which the ordinance would come back to the city council for a possible extension.
The company spokesperson noted that the Long Beach City Council’s mandate does nothing to raise wages for the frontline workers the city employs.
"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," continued the company spokesperson. "We are truly saddened that our associates and customers will ultimately be the real victims of the city council’s actions."
The company said that since March, the grocers’ family of companies have invested $1.3 billion to both reward associates and to implement dozens of safety measures.
"In addition to providing several rewards to all frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates, the organization has invested to support associates through additional benefits like paid emergency leave and the companies’ $15 million Helping Hands fund that provides financial support to associates experiencing certain hardships due to COVID-19," the companies spokesperson wrote in a joint press release. "All extra pay provided was in addition to the total compensation package Ralphs and Food 4 Less have long offered to associates, which includes competitive wages, strong health care coverage, and a reliable pension benefit."
The day after the city council passed the ordinance, the California Grocers Association filed a legal challenge to an ordinance. The claim asked the court to declare the pending hazard pay decree invalid and unconstitutional.
The CGA alleged that the ordinance is illegal because, by singling out certain grocers and ignoring other groups that employ essential frontline workers, it violates the constitutional requirement that similarly situated people must be treated alike. The CGA also argued that the ordinance is preempted by the federal National Labor Relations Act, which protects the integrity of the collective-bargaining process.