Kroger to discontinue 'Hero Bonus' for frontline workers, unions urge for an extension, safer conditions

May 11, 2020 at 2:10 pm
click to enlarge Kroger to discontinue 'Hero Bonus' for frontline workers, unions urge for an extension, safer conditions
Jason Whitman /

It may be the end of the aisle for a meager hourly bonus for essential grocery workers risking their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late March, Kroger announced that it would provide thousands of its hourly frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy, and call center associates with weekly $2 per hour pay increase, or hazard pay, something the chain touts as a “Hero Bonus.”

The original duration of the bonus was to be applied from March 28-April 18, which was later extended to May 2. Last week, the United Food and Commercial Workers union revealed that Kroger had announced that they planned to discontinue the temporary appreciation program on May 17.

However, workers are pleading for an extension, while others are calling for the increase to be applied indefinitely. Workers are also voicing concerns over the store's safety protocols not being enforced, putting the lives of those workers at an elevated risk for transmitting the virus.

Shortly after the Hero Bonus rollout, Kroger — the largest supermarket chain in the U.S, with more than 2,500 stores across 35 states and estimated sales of $70 billion a year — announced the death of four metro Detroit Kroger employees due to the coronavirus.

While the pandemic has forced entire industries to shut its doors, with 33 million Americans who have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus entered the states, Kroger saw a 30% increase in sales in March from the previous year and, according to a press release issued in April, the company “expects first-quarter identical sales ... to be better than the annual growth rate” projected for all of 2020.

As of last week, presidents of several local unions penned a letter to Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen expressing concern over the discontinuation of its Hero Bonus “weeks before other major retailers,” as well as addressing the fact that customers are not held to the same safety measures as Kroger employees, which will continue to put workers at risk.

“There is no path to recovery from a virus that has no cure,” the letter reads. “The members of the UFCW that work for you are stocking shelves, bagging groceries, cleaning, and running cash registers while wearing masks and gloves to try to save their lives and the lives of their families. They do this every day to protect themselves from customers who are not required to wear the same PPE.”

The letter, which asks the company not to turn its back on the very employees who have helped sustain Kroger's business operations during an unprecedented pandemic, also claims that social-distancing rules and customer limits are not being enforced across its retail stores.

In a statement to Popular Information, Kroger doubled-down on its decision to end the pay increase.

“The temporary Hero Bonus is scheduled to end in mid-May. In the coming months, we know that our associates’ needs will continue to evolve and change as we all work together to gradually and safely reopen the economy.”

After the letter was published last week, Kroger is now said to be in negotiations with union leaders to extend the hazard pay.

Since the pandemic, the Cincinnati-headquartered chain claims to have committed more than $700 million for employee-reward programs, like the Hero Bonus, and to protect its workers and customers. They also forked out an estimated $340,00 to run a national TV ad, thanking the company's blue apron-wearing heroes.

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