Kroger store closings: Two QFC Food Centers to shutter with grocer citing COVID-19 hazard pay mandate

Kroger said it would close two Seattle stores after local officials there imposed a mandatory $4-per-hour raise as hazard pay during the COVID-19 pandemic for large grocery operators.

The Cincinnati-based grocer said the two QFC Food Centers were “underperforming,” but the decision to close them down was sped up by the new mandate it labeled as “misguided.”

Kroger’s largest union, meanwhile, blasted the move calling it an attempt to “intimidate” municipal leaders.

QFC is a subsidiary of Kroger. The company said the stores would go dark after April 24.

Kroger noted the ordinance didn’t apply to smaller grocers or other non-supermarket frontline workers (such as city workers) facing the same exposure to COVID-19.

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“Seattle City Council’s misguided mandate targets one industry and not only oversteps our collective bargaining rights, but it altogether exempts several non-union competitors,” Kroger said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the irreparable harm that will come to workers and our Seattle community is a direct result of the City’s attempt to pick winners and losers among essential businesses and workers.”

The closures come two weeks after Kroger announced it would close two other stores in Southern California after local officials there also imposed mandatory hazard pay.

Kroger operates several regional supermarket chains in 35 states, including Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Mariano’s, Fry’s, Smith’s, King Soopers and QFC. The company has nearly 2,800 stores and employs nearly 500,000 workers.

The union that represents thousands of Kroger’s frontline workers blasted the grocer’s decision, applying its own labels: “retaliation” and “inexcusable.”

“Kroger has literally made billions in pandemic profits off the sacrifices of grocery workers in Seattle and across the country,” United Food and Commercial Workers International President Marc Perrone said in a statement. “Instead of doing what is right… Kroger is once again trying to intimidate local and national elected leaders.”

The union noted at least 137 grocery workers it represents at Kroger and other retailers have died during the pandemic and more than 30,100 grocery workers have been infected or exposed to the coronavirus.

“Threatening frontline workers with ruthless job cuts and endangering the community’s access to food in the middle of a public health crisis is inexcusable,” Perrone added.

The union said Kroger is adding to that harm by closing stores in communities that need access to food in the time of a national crisis. It also said the company should provide workers with N95 masks to better protect its people.

Kroger countered it has already spent $1.5 billion on worker bonus pay and added safety measures to protect them. It noted the extra pay mandates increased the cost to operate local stores by 20% to 30% in an industry notorious for its “razor-thin” profit margins.

Early this month, Kroger announced it would pay workers a $100 one-time bonus if they got vaccinated against COVID-19 and would also pay another one-time $100 bonus in the form of store credit.

Follow reporter Alexander Coolidge on Twitter: @alexcoolidge.

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