Calling a pullback on emergency or hero pay “unconscionable,” the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) sent a letter to 49 CEOs of the country’s top supermarket chains, including Walmart, Costco and Whole Foods, chastising them for a failure to provide strong emergency pay and protections that it says grocery workers need as they work on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak.
New internal estimates at the Washington, D.C.-based UFCW show that at least 65 grocery workers have died and at least 9,810 have been infected or exposed to the deadly virus.
The union has been particularly critical of The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, which elected not to renew it’s $2-per-hour “hero pay” when it expired May 17 but subsequently announced it would offer a $130 million “Thank You Pay” bonus, which would mean a one-time pay of $400 for full-time workers and $200 for part-time workers. The largest U.S. conventional chain, Kroger has become something of a lightning rod for debate on workforce safety and pay measures: It has acknowledged criticism at the outset of the pandemic for emergency leave guidelines, and as the country moves toward reopenings, faced renewed scrutiny over plans to sunset premium pay.
In an interview with CNN over the weekend, UFCW President Marc Perrone called the end of hourly premiums “not acceptable.”
“I believe that as long as people are required to do social distancing, people are required to wear masks or—and most especially, since there’s no vaccine—we still have a pandemic that we’re trying to deal with and these workers are dealing with,” he told CNN. “And especially in a time where bonuses for management personnel are going up and these workers are having to take less, I think it’s a problem.”
In the same interview, Perrone went on to praise Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize, Stater Bros. Markets and others maintaining the $2-an-hour extra pay. “And I think that Kroger, being a leader in the industry should do the same thing. Because this isn’t just about them. This is about those other companies as well that are taking that as a lead and starting to do those reductions as well. … If you’re going to take risks, you should be paid for it.”
Perrone’s comments may suggest that the UFCW wants Kroger to set a new standard for higher pay for grocery workers on a more permanent basis. For full-time employees working a 40-hour week at Kroger, a $400 bonus would be roughly equivalent to an additional five weeks of a $2-per-hour pay raise. Stater Bros. has extended its $2-per-hour raise until May 31; while Target, ShopRite and Stop & Shop are ending “hero pay” on May 30—just an additional two weeks beyond Kroger.
“This decision is even more inexplicable given that sales are up and profits are up,” Perrone told CNN. “The reality is that Kroger is choosing to ignore this pandemic. This is not how we treat heroes in America.”