Kroger closing some S. California stores because of ‘hero pay’

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KCAL/CNN) – Kroger is closing some of its stores in California because of rules that require $4 an-hour “hero pay” during the pandemic.

The grocery chain said it could afford the higher pay for a while but now they are being forced to cut costs because of it.

Many in one Long Beach neighborhood have been shopping at Ralph’s for decades.

Shopper Nick Savala said, “It’s almost like you’re living in a part of your family because you get to recognize the faces. You see, um, when you come shopping and stuff. So, it’s a real bummer.”

It was the last day a Long Beach Ralph’s and a Food for Less nearby welcomed customers.

Their parent company, Kroger, announced the closures after the city said it must raise every employee’s wage by $4 an hour.

The so-called “hero pay” was intended to reward those working during the pandemic. But Kroger says it was an added expense that put these stores in the red.

Santiago Vasquez handles pickup orders and helps out in the meat department. He says all his coworkers were offered jobs, many of them nearby, but he’s only been here a year and is just working part-time. So, he says his offer for a transfer didn’t make sense for him.

Vasquez said, “I was actually offered a to stay with the company in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach. Scott would be making a minimum wage over there in Huntington but I’d rather just work a minimum wage job around where I live.”

Employees said the building will be used as storage and eventually shuttered leaving those nearby, fearful of what’s to come.

Shopper Brian Bogey said, “No idea what the property value is for. I know there’s, there’s a blank. Next door is this also open real estate? So there might be some kind of deal going on in the land may be pretty valuable.”

It’s a breakup with this community that has some in this neighborhood feeling a little cheated and sad.

Shopper Nick Savala said, “They say it’s because of the $4 an hour hero pay. I don’t know the truth, but I don’t like it.

Meanwhile, Kroger has also announced plans to close another three stores in the city of Los Angeles, which passed its own $5 per-hour hero pay mandate.

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