A group of workers at a Long Beach Food 4 Less store scheduled to be closed in response to the city’s mandate that employees be paid an extra $4-an-hour in “hero pay” rallied outside the market Wednesday, decrying the decision to shutter the store.

“They want to shut the store down after all the hard work I’ve done to feed the needy families, and everything, and risk my life and my families’ lives at home,” worker Robert Gonzales said at a news conference attended by store employees, union leaders and Mayor Robert Garcia.

Kroger Co. announced Monday it planned to close two Long Beach markets — the Ralphs store at 3380 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal and the Food4Less store at 2185 E. South St. — on April 17. The company said the city’s recently enacted “hero pay” ordinance would worsen financial conditions at the “long-struggling” locations.

Store workers and leaders with the United Food and Commercial Workers union blasted the decision as a retaliatory action by Kroger, which they claim has seen soaring profits.

Kroger issued a statement Wednesday defending the decision to close the store, again laying blame on the city’s new ordinance which “only applies to some, but not all, grocery workers in the city.”

“We are truly saddened that our associates and customers will ultimately be the real victims of these forced closures because of the city council’s actions,” according to the company. “The irreparable harm that will come to employees and local citizens as a direct result of the city of Long Beach’s attempt to pick winners and losers, is deeply unfortunate.”

The company insists it invested $1.3 billion to “reward associates” and enact safety measures at all of its stores during the pandemic.

Garcia, who was a main proponent of the “hero pay” ordinance, attended Wednesday’s protest in support of the workers.

“I don’t think that anyone that has shopped over this last six months to a year can look into the eyes of these workers and tell them that they don’t deserve an additional few bucks an hour for the incredible work they’ve been doing during this pandemic,” Garcia said.

The city issued a statement Monday calling Kroger’s decision to close the stores “unfortunate for workers, shoppers and the company,” and said the city would offer resources to displaced workers through the Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Network.”

The Long Beach City Council approved the “hero pay” ordinance last month. It applies to companies with 300 or more workers overall and more than 15 employees per location in Long Beach.

The California Grocers Association argued the ordinance would not do anything to boost the safety of workers, but would actually lead to higher costs for consumers.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to move ahead with a proposed “hero pay” ordinance of its own, with that city proposing an additional $5 an hour for grocery workers. The measure needs to be formally drafted and return to the council for another vote.

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