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Kroger To Close 2 Long Beach Stores Following City-Mandated Pandemic Pay Increase

Grocery giant Kroger Co. will close two of its stores in Long Beach, Calif., after the city council passed an ordinance last month requiring some supermarkets to pay employees an additional $4 an hour.

On Jan. 19, the Long Beach City Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring grocery stores that employ more than 300 workers across the country and more than 15 per store in Long Beach to pay their local employees an additional $4 per hour.

The ordinance is set to last for 120 days, or until the city terminates the order, which could be extended.

Following the order, Kroger says it has decided to close two of its stores in the area. A statement released by Kroger said two stores in its Ralphs and Food 4 Less divisions will close at their Long Beach locations.

"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."

Kroger said it has invested $1.3 billion since the pandemic began, as both rewards to employees and to implement safety measures. It also provided financial support to employees experiencing certain pandemic hardships through its $15 Million Helping Hands fund.

Last month's Long Beach ordinance has since been emulated by the Los Angeles City Council, which on Tuesday voted to pass a similar measure that requires groceries to pay an additional $5 per hour to their non-managerial employees. The council went one step further and included drug retail stores along with the grocery stores. It passed with unanimous consent Tuesday.

Kroger said the two locations would close on April 17.

"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," the company spokesperson said. "We are truly saddened that our associates and customers will ultimately be the real victims of the city council's actions."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.