MECHANICSVILLE, Va. -- Lisa Harris has clocked-in for shifts at Kroger grocery stores for the past 13 years. She’s worked self-checkout at a Mechanicsville Kroger for the last four years.
“I like interacting with my local community and meeting new people,” Harris explained. “You feel the sense everyday you’re helping personally keeping the store going.”
Grocery store employees have been considered essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic - joining healthcare workers, first responders, and other frontline employees.
“I know there’s a high possibility of me getting COVID-19,” Harris said. “We were heroes before and we will be after.”
Since March, Kroger employees have received a hazard pay of $2 extra per hour as they work through the pandemic.
“As soon as that came in it just felt like somebody is paying attention. It’s literally between the difference of paying a bill and not,” Harris described.
However, Kroger plans to end the “hero pay” increase after May 16.
United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 based in Maryland has called on Kroger to extend the bonus in the wake of the pandemic.
“Our members have risked their lives and the lives of their families to continue coming to work to serve customers through this crisis,” said Mark Federici, President of UFCW Local 400. “The danger they face everyday is still present, and with no vaccine in sight, will continue to be for quite some time. These heroes deserve to be compensated for the service they continue to provide to the community.”
Approximately 8,000 Kroger employees in Virginia, including Harris, are members of the union.
In a statement, Allison McGee, corporate affairs manager for Kroger Mid-Atlantic, confirmed the “temporary Hero Bonus” is scheduled to end in mid-May.
“The Kroger Family of Companies has invested over $700 million dollars to reward our associates and safeguard associates, customers and our communities during the pandemic,” McGee wrote. “We continuously evaluate employee compensation and benefits packages.”
The grocer also hired more than 80,000 workers since the pandemic started - many who lost their jobs.
The union argued the grocery industry is booming. In March, Kroger store sales increased about 30 percent, according to UFCW.
UFCW has created a petition urging Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen to extend the bonus indefinitely until the end of the crisis for all Kroger associates continuing to work.
Harris predicted that morale among employees will decrease if the “hero pay” was taken away.
“When you got that family feeling in the store and all of a sudden Kroger says, ‘That extra 2 dollars we are giving you it’s going,’ — you realize that family feeling may end at your store level,” she stated.
UFCW represents 35,000 members working in the retail food, health care, retail department store, food processing, service and other industries in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Kroger’s full statement reads:
"Throughout the pandemic, Kroger’s top priority is to provide and maintain a safe environment for our associates and customers with open stores, comprehensive digital solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain, so that our communities always have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials.
The Kroger Family of Companies has invested over $700 million dollars to reward our associates and safeguard associates, customers and our communities during the pandemic. We have also provided new career opportunities to more than 80,000 workers nationwide, including those from the hardest-hit sectors like restaurants, hotels and food service distributors, to support our retail, ecommerce, manufacturing and logistics operations.
Our 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 our country recovers. Our commitment is that we will continue to listen and be responsive, empowering us to make decisions that advance the needs of our associates, customers, communities and business. We continuously evaluate employee compensation and benefits packages.
We are committed to the continued support of our associates’ safety and mental well-being, and we’ll continue our ongoing discussions on these critical aspects with the UFCW.
Here are a few of the ways we’ll continue to invest in, support and protect our associates:
• Offering testing to associates based on symptoms and medical need
• Providing 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 and encouraging customers to wear masks in our stores, or alternatively, use ecommerce services
• Providing benefits packages, which includes healthcare coverage and retirement benefits
• Offering $5 million through our Helping Hands fund to provide financial support to certain associates experiencing hardships due to COVID-19, including childcare costs
• Making available mental health resources
• Continued implementation of customer capacity limits and special shopping hour for senior shoppers and higher-risk customers
• Continued plexiglass partitions and physical distancing floor decals
• Expanding Contact-free payment solutions like Scan, Bag, Go and Kroger Pay
• No-contact delivery option, low-contact pickup service and a ship-to-home offering"