September 23, 2021
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control, speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater on December 8, 2020.

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Workers hold placards in protest at a Food 4 Less supermarket in Long Beach, California on February 3, after a decision by owner Kroger to close two stores rather than pay workers an additional $4 in “hazard pay” for their continued work during the pandemic. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of grocery store workers in Long Beach, California may soon be without jobs after Kroger announced it will permanently close two stores to avoid offering workers hazard pay during the pandemic.

The citywide hazard pay ordinance requires large grocers to pay their staff an extra $4 per hour for at least four months since workers face higher risk of exposure to the virus.

“It’s a slap in the face when they don’t want to pay us what we deserve, putting our lives on the front line,” said Clara Vega, general manager at one of the closing stores, a Food 4 Less supermarket. “We work so hard, we work so much overtime, it’s ridiculous.”

Local officials and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million workers, condemned Kroger’s move to close the stores instead of increasing employees’ pay.

“Since the pandemic began, Kroger has made billions in profits because of the sacrifices of grocery workers who have been putting their own health and safety on the line every day,” UFCW International president Marc Perrone said in a statement.
“Rather than provide the hazard pay these grocery workers have earned and deserve, Kroger decided to threaten these workers and the community’s access to food in the middle of a public health crisis.”

Profit during the pandemic: The two stores slated for closure experienced sales increases of up to 31% since the start of the pandemic, according to Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Herrera said Kroger has recently seen a 90% profit increase and spent $1.4 billion in stock buybacks. CNN has reached out to Kroger for comment on its earnings. 

Robert Gonzalez, a frozen food clerk at the Food 4 Less, said he was devastated to learn his store will be closing after working for Kroger for 26 years. 

“After all the hard work I’ve done to feed the needy families and risk my life and my family’s lives at home, they don’t want to pay $4 extra an hour for four little months,” Gonzalez said. “We also give donations every week to the homeless and needy families and they want to take that away. That is so wrong and evil.”

More possible closures: Earlier this week, the cities of Los Angeles, West Hollywood, San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland passed similar hazard pay ordinances. Grocery store employees in Seattle who work for a company with more than 500 employees also saw a $4 an hour hazard pay increase starting Wednesday. Kroger told CNN it was also considering additional closures in several US cities.