The Kroger supermarket chain is ending its so-called “hero pay” for employees continuing to work during the coronavirus pandemic.
In its place, the company will provide one-time bonuses to employees.
Kroger said in a statement Friday that full-time associates would receive $400 and part-time associates would receive $200. The “Thank You Pay” bonuses will be split between two payments on May 30 and June 18.
The head of a union representing Kroger’s workers blasted the move.
“At the beginning of this crisis, Kroger first called these workers heroes and now they have decided that they’ve stopped being heroes,” Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said in an emailed statement.
“This is not how we treat heroes in America,” he added.
Perrone also called the decision “inexplicable” considering the increase in sales and profits Kroger is receiving as a result of the pandemic.
In early April, the company began providing most workers a $2-an-hour pay raise.
That program is ending May 23, after being extended since April.
In its announcement Friday, the company said that other changes to its policies for paid leave and access to health services would remain in place for now.
“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,” Kroger’s chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen said in the statement.
“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 new “Thank You Pay” announcement followed negotiations with union leaders over employee pay and protective measures due to the pandemic.
The union had been seeking a continuation of extra pay for workers as well as additional safety measures throughout Kroger’s stores.
“We think the work that our members do is heroic every day,” local spokesperson Brigid Kelly said Friday. “We certainly think that they earned that payment and they deserve it just like they earned this bonus. And they deserve that and more.”
Kelly also said that the public should be mindful of worker safety. “We appreciate people being respectful of the work they do and staying two carts apart and covering their face and being respectful of them when they're shopping,” she said.
Also Friday, the union reported that an estimated 65 grocery workers have died of COVID-19. It says an additional 9,810 workers have become sick or been exposed.
The estimate appeared alongside a letter the union sent to the CEOs of other supermarket chains condemning them for failing to extend hazard pay.
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