Grocery store workers and communities brace for impacts of Kroger store closures • Long Beach Post News


For over 12 years, Kellye Hines-Parks has worked at Food 4 Less in North Long Beach. On Monday, he was told his store would close in April and his future at the company is in limbo.

“It was a shock,” Hines-Parks said. “I am still shocked.”

Nearly 200 Kroger employees face layoffs or transfers following Kroger Co.’s announcement Monday that it was closing two Long Beach stores after the city ordered large grocery companies to pay $ 4 more an hour during the pandemic. The company has yet to make an announcement regarding employee retention.

The two stores that will close on April 17 are Food 4 Less on South Street and Ralphs at the intersection of Los Coyotes Diagonal and Wardlow Road in East Long Beach.

Hines-Parks, a diabetic, worked for five months from the pandemic during her pregnancy. She gave birth in August and was back in the bakery department in December. She said it was “scary” to go to work every day.

“We put our lives in there to help other people get what they need to be OK,” she said, adding that she still supported the hero’s pay mandate but didn’t never expected a comeback of this magnitude.

Hines-Parks does not own a car, but has lived within walking distance of the South Street grocery store since she started her job. For years, she had about 30 minutes of walking to get to work, but she finally moved in just a few minutes.

Whether transferred or fired, Hines-Parks faces challenges. If she is laid off, finding a job would be essential to feed her children. But even if she is moved to another store, she could face much longer trips, possibly by one or more buses.

“I have to make it work because I have kids,” she says. “I’m going to make it work, but it’s going to be difficult.”

Kroger officials did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

On Monday, they said they would do everything possible to take care of the employees, but noted the move could result in layoffs. The company called the city’s “paying hero” tenure “misguided” and a government “overshoot” that added insurmountable financial hardship to already struggling stores.

The impacts of closures are not limited to condemned store employees. The surrounding community of North Long Beach, which has long been considered a food desert, relies on groceries. Many nearby residents, like Hines-Parks, do not own a car and often go to the store for their groceries.

“It’s not only a slap on the face of the workers, but it’s also a slap on the community,” said Andrea Zinder, president of UFCW Local 324, which represents 22,000 grocery workers in the region. , including those soon to be closed Long Beach stores.

Councilor Rex Richardson, who represents North Long Beach, said food insecurity was not new to his district, but the past five years had seen improvements with the introduction of two new grocery stores. Also, the area’s proximity to stores in other towns, such as WinCo Foods in Lakewood and Northgate Market in Paramount, helps.

Nonetheless, Richardson said his top priority was to work with city departments and local nonprofits to establish a food safety plan in the wake of Kroger’s announcement.

On Monday, the first day of Black History Month, Kroger also announced a racial equity program, including $ 3 million in funding. Richardson blasted the move.

“That same day, they announced that they were closing a grocery store in a black and brown community,” Richardson said. “Because the community sided with the workers. This is direct retaliation. It is shameful.

Zinder acknowledged that the impacts on the community surrounding Ralphs’ closure may not be as drastic as those in the northern part of town. East Long Beach is a more affluent area where more residents own vehicles. Within a mile or less of Ralphs’ location, you’ll find several other grocery stores, including lodges, a grocery store, Stater Bros, and an Amazon Fresh that is slated to open soon.

But the diminishing impacts on the community doesn’t mean they’re non-existent, Zinder said. Many shoppers have stores of preference and losing that can be a burden, she said.

The impacts on employees are the same regardless of location, Zinder added. No matter the employee or the location, moving to a new store can be disturbing, especially if it’s outside of the community where they live. Zinder said transferred employees might not be able to receive the same number of hours or shifts in previous days, two factors that may force some to seek other employment even if Kroger offers them another job.

Councilor Stacy Mungo, who represents the area where the Ralphs will be closed, said she was not entirely surprised by Kroger’s decision, but acknowledged the difficulties ahead.

“While I am disappointed to hear of Ralphs… it has been reported every few months for years,” Mungo said in a text to The Post. “I will work hand in hand with our Workforce Development programs to help Ralph employees transition to other high paying jobs to ensure that our residents who worked hard and showed up. for our neighbors during this extremely difficult time find other opportunities in the community.

Zinder said the union is looking at all of its options to help its members. But one option that’s off the table is to work with the company itself, she said.

“Kroger is not interested in working with us,” Zinder said, adding that the union is even exploring legal options in response to what she calls a “vicious act of retaliation.”

In its closure announcement, Kroger said the two stores in question were struggling and that the city’s mandatory – and temporary – wage increase had forced their hand.

But Zinder and Hines-Parks tell a different story.

“The sales of these two stores increased by 30% during the pandemic compared to the same period the previous year,” Zinder said. “So either they were always going to close these stores or they send a message to the employees and all the other cities that are considering the same thing.” [mandates]. “

Hines-Parks said every time she asks management about store sales, she is told they are doing fine. In fact, in the first two quarters of 2020, Kroger’s profits nearly doubled, according to a report from the Brookings Institute, a Washington DC-based think tank. The company posted third quarter revenue of $ 29.7 billion, or 11.3% from the same quarter in 2019.

“I love Food 4 Less. But that seems unfair, ”Hines-Parks said. “I wish we could find a better way than to close the store. I just don’t understand.

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