On May 5, around 30 workers representing the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union 770 and supporters gathered outside Food4Less stores in both Pacoima and Los Angeles to ask customers to boycott the stores. This comes amidst over a year-long struggle with Kroger (Food4Less’s parent company) over their contract. In addition, the company closed down stores in the community over the “Hero Pay” bill in California; the law requires large grocery and pharmacy retailers to give employees a $5 per hour hazard-pay bonus.
“Negotiations for one year: guess what they’ve come back with? Fifty cents a year. Fifty cents! I’ll tell you what. My rent, to live in a better area than this, goes up every six months. And not by 50 cents, I’ll tell you that much. So that’s why we’re here today, to educate the people even if they can’t boycott and go to another store. We’re realistic. We understand the resources aren’t there for everyone, but just that they are informed. We would love for them to go to another store, the 99 cents store, just until this is over and Kroger realizes we are worthy of a good contract,” said Daniel De La Cruz, UFCW bargaining committee representative.
Grocery workers were one of the many superexploited groups throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While Kroger made $2.8 billion in profit in 2020, they are offering the workers that created that value only a paltry $0.50 per hour raise. Not only that, but the wage increase would also only apply to the 38% of workers who are already at the top rate of pay; the remaining 62% would get no increase at all.
Donna, a Food4Less employee for 20 years told Liberation News, “[The COVID pandemic] impacted a lot. A lot of the customers didn’t want to wear the mask, you know?” She continued, “A lot of customers get angry when you ask them to follow protocol. … Management and Food4Less is going to need to support us. It’s hard for us who have to deal with our families. I take care of my mom, and my son is paralyzed from the chest down and he’s in the hospital. What we’re making right now is nothing, not even close; prices are continuing to go up, and it’s hard.”
At the Los Angeles Food4Less, workers and supporters formed a picket line, marching, singing songs, chanting, and passing out fliers informing customers about the situation. Throughout the day, the sky echoed with the sound of car horns as many customers honked in approval and support as they drove to other store locations.
“It’s not fair that they don’t want to give us what we ask for. Throughout this pandemic, we’ve been working endless hours, we see our coworkers getting sick, and we have to cover their hours, but they [Kroger] doesn’t want to recognize that. All we are asking for is a raise, similar to what Ralphs has,” said Omar, a Food4Less employee for 11 years. He is transferring to a new location, as Kroger is shutting down his store on May 15.
There was a shared sentiment of frustration among workers and representives with how the company has treated their store in comparison to others owned by Kroger, and the difficulties of working during COVID-19. However, there was also an undeniable optimism and resolve to continue showing strength in numbers.
“This has been going on for a year now, and [Kroger] thought that we didn’t have the strength or the support of the people and the community to keep going, but they are wrong,” said De La Cruz.
For updates, please visit UFCW 770.