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The Guardian

‘They don’t care’: US supermarket chain closes stores after dangerous payment rules

Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the US, fires its employees after a local ordinance was passed on the provision for dangerous living conditions in Los Angeles Food4Less workers protest in front of their grocery store to order to its parent company, Kroger, to keep stores open in Long Beach, California, on February 3. Photo: Mike Blake / Reuters Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the U.S. making hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, is closing grocery stores and laying off dozens of employees in response to local pay-per-view rules. hazardous to essential workers, even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage. Maria Hernandez has worked at Ralphs grocery stores for 25 years before recently discovering that her store would be closing. He has overcome the pandemic and caught the coronavirus in May 2020. He is still experiencing lingering long-term effects and has dealt with panic and anxiety attacks from stress and pressures on essential workers. “Why are they punishing us?” Hernandez said. “If it weren’t for us, they wouldn’t be able to run the stores. As a person we have value. As workers we have value. They don’t seem to care about you as a human being. They don’t care. ”In response to a local ordinance passed by the Los Angeles City Council on March 3 to give front-line workers at large employers a $ 5-per-hour increase in hazard pay for 120 days, Kroger announced plans to close three grocery stores in the city, eliminating more than 250 jobs. Kroger said the decision to close a Food4Less location and two Ralphs stores was due to poor performance at the locations. Tina Jones, an employee of Courtesy at one of Ralphs grocery stores scheduled for closure, argued that the decision was retaliation against workers and the wage ordinance. “If this store was underperforming, it was underperforming before the pandemic. There should have been It’s been closed then. Why are you waiting until now to shut it down? It’s retaliation, “Jones said.” Because none of these Kroger executives, did they give us their bonus? annual fee so we could get $ 5 an hour? No, they are sitting in their nice houses in the hills or wherever they live, and they tell us we don’t deserve an extra $ 5 an hour. “Jones also lives and grew up close to where she works in Ralphs. She is concerned about the impact the Community grocery store closing, especially customers in need like a couple of regulars who are blind and she helps buy groceries. She makes $ 15.30 an hour, 30 cents more than current hourly minimum wage in Los Angeles, explaining that she and her co-workers have struggled through the pandemic, dealing with significant influxes of customers in stores, customers without masks, understaffed, protective gear, and coronavirus outbreaks. “I think every one of us has made that $ 5 an hour, “Jones added.” To get Kroger to say that we are all one family, well, they are taking their family out onto the streets. In January 2021, the California Merchants Association introduced a demand federal government to try to stop the $ 4 an hour risk pay ordinance in Long Beach, but a judge denied a request for a preliminary injunction before it went into effect. Kroger closed two grocery stores in Long Beach after the $ 4 per hour risk pay ordinance was passed. In February 2021, Kroger also closed two grocery stores in Seattle after the Seattle city council passed a local $ 4 per hour pay-at-risk ordinance for grocery store workers. As demand for groceries skyrocketed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kroger reported an operating profit of $ 2.8 billion in 2020, an increase of $ 2.25 billion in 2019. Kroger’s sales have continued to outperform 2019, with a sales increase of more than 10% in the last quarter. Quarter 2020. Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen received more than $ 21 million in total compensation in 2019, a 789-to-1 ratio compared to the median salary for Kroger employees. When the pandemic began, Kroger enacted a $ 2-an-hour risk pay alongside several other large retailers and grocery chains, but ended it in May 2020 after buying nationwide television ads thanking its essential employees. In September 2020, Kroger announced a billion dollar share buyback program. Kroger spent $ 1.32 billion on share buybacks in 2020 and increased dividends to shareholders by a total of $ 534 million, providing nearly $ 1.9 billion to shareholders, more than double Kroger’s return to shareholders. in 2019 of 951 million dollars. “It’s punishing workers and communities for deciding what our communities are like and how workers should be compensated,” said John Grant, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 in Los Angeles. “They are, as best we can say, the only supermarket chain that acts in a punitive way and tries to punish workers in the community. No one else is closing stores. “A Kroger spokesperson touted the bonuses, security measures and rewards for associates in its network of supermarket businesses that have been provided since the start of the pandemic.” We are in the business of providing food. fresh, good, stable jobs with growth opportunities for thousands of Americans, and we proudly support thousands of local community organizations in our family of stores, “the spokesperson said in an email.” Unfortunately, local municipalities ignore the fact that that, even in a pandemic, supermarkets operate with very low profit margins in a very competitive landscape. It is never our desire to close stores, but when you take into account the increase in operating costs during Covid-19, the financial losses constant at these locations and additional payment mandates, it becomes impossible to operate these stores. “

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