Cincinnati, OH—Kroger is ending “hero” pay, according to the Chicago Tribune. Following an outcry from the United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW)—which represents over 55,000 workers at Kroger-owned chains—Kroger will be handing out one-time “thank you” bonuses.
As CBS reported, when Hero Pay was instituted, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said: “Our associates have displayed the true actions of a hero, working tirelessly on the front lines to ensure everyone has access to affordable, fresh food and essentials during this national emergency. The Hero Bonus is just one more way we continue to convey our thanks and gratitude not only to our existing associates, but also to the more than 30,000 new hires who have joined in the past two weeks and those who will soon join the Kroger family of companies.”
An April press release from Kroger stated that “the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a significantly greater lift in sales across both physical retail stores and digital channels in March…Sales sharply accelerated in March with identical retail supermarket sales without fuel up approximately 30 percent.” The release continued: “The Kroger family of companies is investing in special pay above regular wages for frontline hourly associates, providing expanded paid sick leave, and hiring a record number of new associates… These investments are supporting associates, customers, and communities through the pandemic, and will help the company emerge stronger as a result.”
CBS also noted that on May 10, Kroger ran a national TV ad thanking its workers. One estimate put the cost of the ad at $340,000.
Members of UFCW noted that McMullen received a 21% compensation increase of $2.5 million last year, bringing his total 2019 compensation to $14.5 million.
Hero Pay was ended on May 17.
The UFCW Local 75 sent a letter asking Kroger to reconsider and to “join the rest of the retail community in extending this pay for as long as we face a global pandemic… No one knows how long this will last and no one knows what normal will look like when the threat of COVID-19 is over.” The letter pointed out: “There is no path to recovery from a virus that has no cure.”
The UFCW letter also pointed out that, amidst a rising number of cases and deaths, Kroger customers are not required to wear PPE, putting Kroger employees at risk while they keep the stores operational. Social distancing, one-shopper-per-household rules, having every other check lane open, and customer limits are not enforced in-store, the letter adds.
The letter concludes: “This is no time for the Company to turn its back on the very people who’ve gotten Kroger through this pandemic thus far with no end in sight. We ask that you continue the Hero Pay, as your competitors have done, through the month of May, with an open mind that Hero Pay must continue as long as COVID-19 threatens the health and safety of our members and the communities they serve.”
In a separate statement, Kim Cordova, President of UFCW 7, noted that even if states are reopening, that doesn’t mean that Kroger should act as though the danger has passed: “Just because states start to reopen doesn’t mean the dangers from COVID are less severe. Instead, grocery workers’ jobs become more dangerous as customer traffic increases. We’re already seeing a startling uptick in the number of essential grocery workers testing positive for COVID-19. These heroes provided and served their communities without hesitation. These #EssentialHeroes are asking for fair pay and safe stores.”
Thank You Bonus
The Chicago Tribune reports that Kroger will be giving the “thank you” bonuses instead—$400 for full-time workers and $200 for part-time workers, to be paid out in two installments on May 30 and June 18. Kroger did not address the Union’s letter in the announcement.
McMullen said in a press release: “Our associates have been instrumental in feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic. To recognize and thank our associates for their incredible work during this historic time, we offered special pay in March, April, and May. As the country moves toward reopening, we will continue to safeguard our associates’ health and well-being and recognize their work. At the same time, we will continue running a sustainable business that provides steady employment and opportunities to learn and grow for over half a million associates.” The pay will cost the company approximately $130 million, according to the press release.
UFCW Local 75 President Kevin Garvey told the Tribune that the union will continue to pressure Kroger to provide bonus pay for the duration of the pandemic. “COVID-19 is not going away soon,” he continued. “Our members still have to work in the same conditions and deal with the same pressures. They are worth every penny of the $2.00 premium and the (latest) bonus.”
UFCW International estimates that at least 65 grocery workers have died at Kroger and other retailers after contracting the coronavirus. On Friday, the union called on 49 major grocery companies—including Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Costco, and Sam’s Club—to extend hazard pay for their workers.