Back and forth over ‘hero pay’ continues between Kroger & union

Business

CLARKSBURG, WV – On Friday, Kroger announced it will provide a special “Thank You Pay “to hourly frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center employees “to acknowledge their dedication to maintaining safe, clean and stocked stores,” according to a news release.

The move was quickly denounced by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

The one-time bonuses, which will be $400 for qualified full-time associates and $200 for qualified part-time associates, will be paid out in two installments on May 30 and June 18, Kroger officials said.

The $130 million “Thank You Pay” bookends an “Appreciation Pay” first provided to frontline workers for their efforts at the start of the pandemic in March. It also follows multiple “Hero Bonuses,” paid in April through mid-May, with a final payment by May 23, according to the Kroger news 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,” said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO.

“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,” McMullen added.

UFCW officials said they would prefer the $2 per hour increase employees have been working under, continue:

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“We are extremely disappointed by Kroger’s decision to end Hero Pay. At the beginning of this crisis, Kroger first called these workers ‘heroes’ and now they have decided that they’ve stopped being heroes. The simple fact is that the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Social distancing continues. Kroger workers are still required to wear masks. There is no vaccine. This decision is even more inexplicable given that sales are up and profits are up. The reality is that Kroger is choosing to ignore this pandemic. This is not how we treat heroes in America.”

UFCW International President Marc Perrone

Kroger officials also announced Friday it will continue its COVID-19 Emergency Leave guidelines to provide paid time off to associates who are directly affected by the virus or experiencing related symptoms.

“We want our associates to continue to feel supported in prioritizing their health,” said Tim Massa, Kroger’s senior vice president and chief people officer. “Our associates should only be working if they are healthy and symptom free. By continuing paid emergency leave, our associates most directly affected by the virus or experiencing related symptoms should feel supported in staying home, promoting a safer environment to work and shop in.”

The ways Kroger said it “will continue to invest in, support and protect its associates” include:

  • Offering COVID-19 testing to associates based on symptoms and medical need
  • Providing COVID-19 Emergency Leave to associates most directly affected by the virus or experiencing related symptoms and providing paid time off
  • Supplying masks for all associates and encouraging them to stay home if they are sick
  • Encouraging customers to wear masks in stores, or alternatively, use ecommerce services
  • Providing comprehensive benefits packages, including healthcare coverage and retirement benefits
  • Offering $5 million through the organization’s Helping Hands fund to provide financial support to certain associates experiencing hardships due to COVID-19, including childcare costs
  • Making mental health resources readily available
  • Continuing implementation of customer capacity limits and special shopping hour for senior shoppers and higher-risk customers
  • Continuing the use of plexiglass partitions and physical distancing floor decals
  • Expanding contact-free payment solutions like Scan, Bag, Go and Kroger Pay
  • Offering a no-contact delivery option, low-contact pickup service and ship-to-home orders

The UFCW’s concerns do not just lie with Kroger. The union sent a letter Friday to the CEOs of the U.S.’s top 49 supermarket chains, asking for an “immediate guarantee of hazard pay for all grocery workers until the risk of the virus has abated.”

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