Is Kroger justified in closing stores over a hero pay ordinance?
Kroger has announced that it will close a Ralphs and a Food 4 Less store in Long Beach, CA, after the city passed an ordinance requiring it to pay an extra $4 an hour to frontline associates for at least 120 days.
The grocer said it was forced into taking this action at the locations because they were underperforming prior to passage of the ordinance and would not be viable with a higher payroll. The two stores represent about a quarter of Kroger-owned locations in Long Beach.
Kroger criticized the ordinance as imbalanced, contending that some grocers must pay workers the additional $4 an hour more while others not. The law applies to stores with 15 employees or more that are part of larger businesses with 300 or more employees. Kroger also pointed out that, while Long Beach is requiring the company to pay its frontline workers more, it does not apply the same rule to city employees paid by the hour that are at risk as well.
The California Grocers Association, which filed a suit against Long Beach, claiming the ordinance interferes with collective bargaining, said that its passage will raise labor costs at grocery stores by about 28 percent, according to the Long Beach Post.
Long Beach is not alone in considering so-called “Hero Pay” resolutions. Other towns in California and other states are moving close to passing similar ordinances, all of which point to the increased risk that hourly, mostly low paid frontline workers, face in grocery store environments.
A study published last October in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that grocery workers in shopper-facing positions were 5.1 times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than those who did not interact with customers. About 20 percent of those studied were infected and 76 percent of those were asymptomatic.
A recent Wall Street Journal article told a sobering story of Joyce Babineau, a 67-year-old Stop & Shop associate from Massachusetts. Ms. Babineau, who took great pains to avoid bringing COVID-19 into her home and infecting her 76-year-old husband Paul, believes she contacted the virus while at work. She was asymptomatic and Mr. Babineau, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, became ill and died.
- Kroger to close a Ralphs and Food 4 Less in Long Beach after city’s ‘hero pay’ mandate – Long Beach Post
- ‘$4 isn’t much’: Closure of Ralphs over COVID-19 ‘hero pay’ angers shoppers, employees – Los Angeles Times
- Kroger will shut two California stores to avoid offering workers “hazard pay” – CBS News
- Covid Wears On, Essential Workers Carry On: ‘Everybody Forgets That You’re Still on the Front Line – The Wall Street Journal
- Association between SARS-CoV-2 infection, exposure risk and mental health among a cohort of essential retail workers in the USA – Occupational and Environmental Medicine/BMJ Journals
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see chains closing large numbers of stores if hero pay ordinances are passed in other cities and towns around the country? Will Kroger come out of the dispute over hero pay in Long Beach looking like the good or bad guy to its customers?