Kroger is closing more stores in areas where the grocery chain would be forced to pay workers hazard wages

kroger
Kroger logo is seen at one of their stores in Athens, Ohio.

  • Kroger is closing 3 stores in LA after a new law mandated an extra $5 an hour for essential workers.
  • Kroger also closed stores in Seattle and Long Beach, California, following hazard pay laws.
  • Across the US, 134 grocery store workers have died and 28,700 have been infected due to COVID-19.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Kroger is closing three stores in Los Angeles after the Los Angeles City Council voted in favor of a hazard pay law that mandates large corporations to pay an extra $5 per hour to frontline essential workers.

The store closures – one Ralphs and two Food 4 Less locations – will eliminate the jobs of 250 employees, CNN first reported. The company will work to reassign within the company the employees affected by the store closures.

This isn’t the first time Kroger has closed stores after being required to pay essential workers hazard pay. Last month, Kroger closed two QFC stores in Seattle after the city implemented a hazard pay law requiring $4 extra per hour for essential workers, Insider reported. Kroger also closed stores in Long Beach, California, following mandates for hazard pay in February.

“City officials need to consider that grocery stores- in a pandemic- operate on razor-thin profit margins,” Kroger said when the Seattle stores closed in a statement to Insider. “The mandated extra pay makes it impossible to continue operating underperforming stores.” Kroger will work to relocate employees to other positions within the company.

Critics have taken aim at Kroger’s profits as the country’s largest grocery chain continues to cut jobs during a pandemic.

“This company took in $2.6 billion in profits last year alone. Some people won in the pandemic, most lost. Kroger clearly won and now faced with sharing their windfall with their employees they chose instead to destroy 250 families’ lives in the middle of a pandemic,” said John Grant, the president of the union representing grocery and drug store workers.

“This is not about hazard pay. This is about communities standing up to big corporations as they profit off thousands of infections and death,” Grant added.

“This is not a business decision. This is greed, pure and simple. This is Kroger sending a message to their employees that asking for their fair share won’t just cost them their jobs, but their community’s access to food as well,” said Michelle Seyler, the executive director of Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice. “We are still in the middle of a global pandemic, and we should be caring for those who care for us, not taking away people’s livelihoods.”

In the US, 134 grocery store workers have died due to COVID-19, and 28,700 grocery store workers have been infected or exposed to the coronavirus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Kroger isn’t the only company to come under scrutiny for the lack of hazard pay to essential workers. Amazon-owned Whole Foods stopped paying its workers an extra $2 per hour in June. Employees called on the chain to reinstate the hazard bonus.

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Los Angeles County will mandate an extra $5 per hour in ‘hero pay’ for frontline grocery and drugstore workers

grocery store clerk

Some grocery store employees will get an additional $5 per hour in “hero pay” in Los Angeles County after a vote from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, The Washington Post first reported.

The pay increase was approved in a four to one vote, and will go into effect Friday for at least 120 days. Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis says the raise will likely impact about 2,000 workers.

Top retailers saw a 40% increase in profits during the pandemic in 2020 compared to 2019 – while their stock prices rose an average of 33% – according to a study from the Brookings Institute. But retail workers at these companies facing the most health risk risk did not necessarily see much of this increased profit.

“Grocery and drug retail workers are among the heroes of this pandemic, putting their lives on the line – often for low wages and minimal benefits- in order to sustain our food system and maintain healthy communities,” the county’s proposal says.

Hazard pay for frontline workers has mostly been handled locally, and cities across the US including Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, and other West Coast municipalities have mandated similar “hero pay.”

These moves have been controversial among corporations. Kroger criticized Seattle’s $4 an hour temporary pay bump, and says increased labor costs forced it to close two more stores. Kroger previously closed two stores in Long Beach, California, after similar measures passed.

Companies that did a “good” job of compensating frontline workers, according to Brookings’ analysis, included Best Buy, Target, and Home Depot. They offered significant hazard pay raises, ranging from an additional $2.22 to an additional $3.07 per hour. 

Hazard pay proposals typically only apply to grocery workers, whose employers benefitted financially from the pandemic. Other frontline workers who are at risk of infection, including nursing home staff, food service workers, janitors, and others are not eligible for hazard pay. 

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