With “hero pay” already gone, store workers are outraged after Kroger proposes cuts to health care amid pandemic
CHARLESTON, WV (October 7, 2020) – Despite record sales growth amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and with confirmed cases among store associates continuing to rise, grocery chain Kroger is proposing to cut healthcare benefits for thousands of employees in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.
In response, outraged union Kroger associates are planning weekly protests at multiple stores, beginning Thursday, October 8th.
|What:||Weekly protests to save benefits healthcare at Kroger|
|When:||5:00 p.m., Thursday, October 8, 2020 and continues every week after|
|Who:||Kroger store employees and community supporters|
|Where:||Simultaneous demonstrations at three locations, including:
“Essential workers at Kroger have risked their lives and the lives of their families to operate these stores during this pandemic, and they continue to do so,” said Mark Federici, President of UFCW Local 400, the union representing the workers. “While other businesses have shuttered as a result of this pandemic, Kroger is making more money than ever. But instead of sharing this success with the workers who have risked their lives to make it possible, Kroger is greedily threatening to slash their health care benefits.”
In addition to slashing healthcare benefits, and after eliminating so-called “hero pay” earlier this year, Kroger is also proposing to eliminate raises and seniority rights for the most experienced store workers.
“A few months ago, this company rightly saw fit to call these workers ‘heroes’, but now Kroger is proposing to eliminate pay raises and seniority rights for their most experienced employees. That’s no way to treat heroes,” said Federici. “Some of these associates have been with the company for more than 40 years. They didn’t sign up to be on first responders during a pandemic, but that’s exactly what they’ve become. They deserve to be rewarded, not punished, for their service.”
While other businesses have closed or shut down during the pandemic, Kroger is thriving. Same-store sales have risen dramatically and the company says they are expected to exceed 13% for the rest of the year. Last month, Kroger announced plans to spend $1 billion buying back their own shares.
“With such extreme success, Kroger should be considering improving benefits, not taking away healthcare for workers on the frontlines of a pandemic,” said Mark Federici. The union is advocating for better wages, healthcare and safe working conditions, including hazard pay for frontline associates continuing to work during the pandemic.
- The union contract between Kroger and UFCW Local 400 covers approximately 4,500 Kroger store associates at 39 stores in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. Negotiations over a new contract have been underway since August. The previous agreement expired on August 29 and is currently under extension until October 17.
- UFCW Local 400 is tracking at least 36 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among workers under the West Virginia union contract as of October 7, 2020. Nationally, UFCW confirmed in August there have been at least 103 grocery worker deaths and over 14,300 grocery workers infected or exposed to COVID-19. As a new investigation by Bloomberg recently reported, the actual national number of workers who have died, become sick, or been exposed, is likely much higher given that America’s largest food companies have launched an effort to hide the true human cost.
- UFCW recently launched a national campaign to reinstate hazard pay for food workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.
- Kroger provided a one-time bonus of $300 for full-timers and $150 for part-timers, paid on April 3, 2020. This was followed by a $2.00/hour increase for to all associates for all hours worked and ended the program on May 16. The company then issued a one-time bonus of $400 for qualified full-time associates and $200 for qualified part-time associates, the final installment of which was paid on June 18, 2020.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 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.