The grocery chain Kroger announced that it would be shutting down three of its Los Angeles-based locations after the city council passed a resolution mandating that all grocers and drug stores provide a hazard pay of $5 an hour to all of its employees, as reported by USA Today.
The company announced that May 15th would be the last day of operation for two of its Ralphs stories and one of its Food 4 Less locations, three out of the 65 other businesses that the company operates in the city. In the statement announcing the closures, Kroger slammed the city council for passing such a mandate in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, saying that “it becomes impossible to operate these three stores” with the additional costs.
Kroger’s statement further added that “prioritizing vaccinations, not arbitrary mandates for extra pay, is what will keep frontline workers protected. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles City Council disregarded their own Economic Impact Report by not considering that grocery stores, even in a pandemic, operate on razor-thin profit margins in a very competitive landscape.”
Kroger suffered an overall loss of $77 million in the last quarter of 2020, due to paying approximately $1 billion into employee pensions. This was despite the company making a sales profit of $2.6 billion on sales of $132.5 billion over the course of 2020. A study showed that a mandated hazard pay of just $1 per hour per employee would cost the company up to $15 million per week, and $780 million annually.
But unions representing Kroger employees sided with the city council and criticized the chain, claiming that such store closures were acts of “retaliation.” Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International union, released a statement calling Kroger’s closures “a cruel attack on essential workers and [a threat to] the food supply for California communities devastated by the explosion of COVID-19 infections in recent months.”