Kroger Reverses Course, Offers Staffers ‘Thank You’ Pay

Liz Carey

Cincinnati, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) – Just four days after news spread that Cincinnati-based grocery store chain Kroger would be suspending its “Hero Pay,” the store shifted gear and opted to now offer “Thank you” pay.

Initially, Kroger’s extra $2 per hour “Hero Pay” to frontline workers started in April and was a way for the company to incentivize employees during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The incentive package was set to expire on May 17. Kroger announced to its employees in early May that the company would not extend the program.

But after receiving backlash from the public, as well as union groups, the company announced Friday, May 15 that it would be giving its employees bonus checks instead, as a “Thank you.”

According to the company, it would be providing $400 for each full-time employee and $200 for each part-time employee. In March, the company provided a similar program, providing $300 to every full-time employee and $150 to every part-time employee.

“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,” Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO said in a 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 company said it has hired more than 100,000 extra associates since the beginning of the pandemic, and now has a workforce of more than 560,000. The company said it will continue to provide safety measures to its associates through COVID-19 testing, providing emergency leave for associates directly affected by the virus, supplying masks for all associates, encouraging customers to wear masks in stores, offering $5 million in funds for financial support for associates, making mental health resources available, continuing with customer capacity limits and special shopping hours for seniors and high-risk customers, using plexi-glass partitions and physical distancing floor decals and expanding contact-free shopping and payment solutions.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union that represents more than 1.3 million members across the country had condemned the termination of “Hero Pay” in a letter to grocery store chains throughout the U.S.

“Now, it has come to our attention that each of your respective companies are actively planning to end what some of you have called ‘hazard pay,’ ‘appreciation pay,’ or even ‘hero pay,’ sometime over the next few weeks. To be very clear, the idea that any company, whether it is a non-union employer such as Amazon, Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Aldi, or any union employer, would stop paying higher wages to the men and women who are working on the front lines of this ongoing pandemic is absolutely unconscionable,” UFCW president Anthony Perrone said in a letter to a number of chains grocery stores. “That this action is even being considered while your respective companies experience record sales is shocking in its indifference. As you must know, this pandemic is not over. Workers are still dying, including many of your own frontline employees. Furthermore, not a single state nor major city, for that matter, has returned to anything resembling a pre-COVID-19 ‘normal.’ To the contrary, every one of your food and grocery store workers are still being asked to risk exposure to this virus and work in dangerous conditions that require them to wear protective equipment on the job. Even more concerning, you are suggesting that frontline workers should work for less because the threat has diminished even as you and your entire executive teams continue to work virtually from home.”

In a new report, UFCW estimates that 72 of its members have died and more than 5,300 have become infected with the disease.

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