About a dozen local activists gathered Sunday in front of a Ralphs location at the Marina Pacific Mall in Long Beach to protest Kroger Co. and demand “Hero Pay” be distributed to its essential grocery workers.
Organized by Anthony Bryson, who helped organize Saturday’s rally in celebration of Black History Month, the event is the first of several scheduled this week to boycott the grocery chain’s parent company, Kroger, which announced last month that two of its grocery stores in Long Beach will be closing in April as a result of the city’s enforcement of hazard pay.
“We stand with the employees, we applaud you,” Bryson said. “You are heroes and you deserve Hero Pay.”
The crowd convened in the Ralphs parking lot and stood at the store’s entrance, marching back and forth and chanting phrases like “Boycott Kroger” and “People over profit, Kroger better stop it.”
Bryson and other organizers said that they chose to rally at the Ralphs location at the Marina Pacifica Mall because it has the “highest volume” and felt obligated to inform members of the public who shop at the “highest performing location of what’s happening.”
The group called on individuals entering the store to shop elsewhere, suggesting Grocery Outlet and Northgate Market, claiming it to be unfair that Kroger is choosing to refrain from distributing the extra $4 per hour to its workers. This prompted a handful of shoppers to turn around and leave the establishment, though most passersby continued on into the Ralphs.
Leader, organizer and supporter EJ Medal said he feels the corporation should prioritize its employees; “instead of money over people, people over money.”
“It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense at all,” Medal said. “Hopefully, if they start boycotting, Kroger knows that people are being aware of what’s actually going on.”
Teri Mondor, a Ralphs employee for 39 years, said she “wishes Kroger was honest about the reason” for the store closures, which she said is because of competition from Amazon Fresh, “not because of the four dollars.”
“I have put my life on the line during this pandemic,” Mondor said. “I don’t see those executives from the main office coming out here the way they used to all the time, they’re at home.”
Rachel Osuna, an organizer from Voices of Long Beach, said she attended the protest to stand up for essential workers who “can be fired for standing up for themselves.”
“We all need to be here for these people,” Osuna said. “It’s hard for them, they’re scared to come out here because they can be fired. We’re here to do that for them.”
Osuna, who is a senior at Lakewood High School, feels that “somebody needs to speak up” for those being affected by Kroger’s lack of Hero Pay disbursement, who are predominantly communities of color, she said.
“It makes us angry and it’s injustice,” Osuna said. “I think it’s very performative of this company to put Black people on the cover of their company, but not care about them and take this Hero Pay away from them.”
Another employee, who asked to remain anonymous in fear of being fired, said they feel deserving of additional pay having to deal with additional responsibilities as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from having to “clean up after literally everyone,” they said they have experienced “so much racism and had to deal with discrimination.”
“I had to deal with issues with my managers, and it’s hard for us to even use the restroom because we are on company time,” they said. “So it’s pretty difficult, but I’m just trying to live by it because it’s a job and I’m blessed by it.”
Bryson said that his goal is to see the locations threatened to be shut down remain open as a result of public awareness and employee strikes.
He feels that while enforcing hazard pay is important for these communities, “we should be pushing for more livable wages, rather than sufferable minimum wages.”
“We’re hoping to push a really impactful week that can bring awareness to the situation, get the attention of the corporate office, hopefully get the support of the employees to join us in a strike, and really be able to bring change that’s much needed,” Bryson said.
The group will be reconvening later this afternoon for another protest at the Food 4 Less location on 2185 E. South St.
Ashley Ramos contributed to the reporting of this article.