(292868)

A rally to protest the closing of another South Los Angeles grocery store is set to be held at noon April 3 in front of the Ralphs at 3300 W. Slauson Ave.

“Our associates are indeed frontline heroes, making sure our communities have access to fresh food and other essentials,” the Ralphs and Food 4 Less fact sheet said, noting that since the start of the pandemic, the Kroger Family of Companies has invested $2.5 billion to reward associates with store credits, cash bonuses and vaccine payments.

But now, the company intends to close three Los Angeles stores, including the Slauson location, apparently due to the Los Angeles City Council’s emergency ordinance, passed March 3, to require large grocery and pharmacy retailers to offer employees an additional $5 per hour in temporary hazard pay, which would start in May and run 120 days. Kroger says the city mandate would make it financially unsustainable to continue operating the three underperforming locations.

The city of L.A.’s ordinance stipulates that no employers can retaliate or discriminate against their workers in response to the ordered pay hike.

“Fair compensation is the very least that our grocery store workers deserve after all they have done for us,” said Council President Nury Martinez, who introduced the motion.

According to Ralphs, the closures of three stores will be completed May 9. The two other stores are a Ralphs in West LA and a Food 4 Less in East Hollywood.

“After 32 years working in this store, I see it’s all about greed,” said Ronald Ford, who works at the South LA site. “Don’t shut it down, people need jobs. Hazard pay is a blessing for me.”

The Kroger Co., headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, is one of the world’s largest food retailers, with fiscal 2020 sales of $132.5 billion. Its website states “We finished fiscal year 2020 with strong sales and earnings, as heightened demand for fresh, convenient food and meal solutions across modalities, including in store, pick up and home delivery, continued throughout the fourth quarter.”

Saturday’s rally organizers include the Harriet Tubman Center for Social Justice, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) of Southern California; the Baptist Ministers Conference of Southern California; Union Del Barrio; the National Action Network; and the United Workers Assembly.

“They are denying our Black and Brown communities access to quality food,” said John Parker, coordinator from the Harriet Tubman Center for Social Justice. “This is not what we need in our community.”

Parker noted that the South LA closure would affect nearly 250 workers.

“There is no excuse for closing down a vital resource for our community. he said, pointing out that April 3 is also the anniversary date of Dr. Martin Luther King’s final speech in Memphis, Tenn., when he was assisting garbage workers there.

“We need to be in solidarity with workers,” Parker said. “We want to follow that leadership. “These essential workers are risking their lives.”

The Kroger site states that store representatives will meet with each impacted associate individually to help them with this transition and will comply with any contractual commitments and consider any transfer requests.

“My brother works at that Ralphs,” said Joe Crosby, Harvard Boulevard Block Club president. “And our neighbors have already been hurt by a Ralphs that closed one block away [on Western Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard] a few years ago. We now have people here who are no longer able to get good food at a decent price. It severely affects our people who are elderly and many people here depended on those jobs. They can’t keep closing these stores just because they’re too greedy to share the huge profits they made during this pandemic.”

But Kroger has a different story.

Grocery stores operate on razor-thin margins and extra pay mandates could put any struggling store in jeopardy, the Kroger site said.

Each Ralphs and Food 4 Less store has its own profit and loss and must be financially sustainable.

Kroger said the Los Angeles City Council mandate adds an additional $20 million in operating costs and would increase store operating costs by nearly 22 percent.

According to United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 770, some major chains like Food 4 Less and Ralphs had agreed last March to increase the pay of the grocery workers in L.A. by $2 an hour, but ended the hazard pay six weeks later as their profits skyrocketed.