The union that represents Kroger grocery store workers on Friday called for the company to not eliminate its $2-an-hour bonus to employees working during the pandemic, known as "Hero Pay," which is planned to end May 16.
Kroger owns the Southern California chains Food 4 Less and Ralphs.
In response to Kroger's announcement, United Food and Commercial Workers local unions are seeking support in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming in asking Kroger to maintain the Hero Pay.
"The pandemic and its effects on the way people grocery shop and feed their families is not changing, so why is Kroger eliminating extra pay for workers they call 'heroes?'"asked Julian Aguayo, a night crew stocker at Food 4 Less in Hollywood. "The essential role we play is not changing, why is our pay?"
The UFCW represents more than 100,000 grocery workers in five states and about 55,000 of them work at Kroger stores. So far, the UFCW Local 770 said about 200 of its members have tested positive for COVID-19.
The union is also calling for Kroger to "more effectively" limit the number of shoppers in a store at one time in order to allow for safe, six-foot distancing and have all workers and shoppers wear masks.
"The pandemic exposed how little corporations pay many workers, workers on whom the public deeply depends," said John Grant, president of UFCW Local 770.
Kroger stated the Hero Pay will end, but the company will continue to assess the needs of its employees going forward.
"As we start on the path to recovery, our Hero Bonus premium will end
on May 16," Kroger stated. "In the coming months, we know that our associates' needs will continue to evolve and change as our world responds and recovers. Our commitment is that we will continue to listen and be flexible in order to make decisions that balance what is best for our associates, customers, communities and the sustainability of our business."
Kroger said it has enacted emergency-leave guidelines for employees, giving them paid time if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 and placed under mandatory quarantine, and it has taken measures to protect its employees from contracting the virus.
"Our first priority throughout this pandemic has been the safety and health of our associates and customers," Kroger said in a statement. "Since March, we have invested over $700 million to reward associates and safeguard associates, customers and our communities. We are proud of our associates for all they have done and continue to do to ensure everyone has access to affordable, fresh food, even in times of uncertainty."
Kroger stated it has provided jobs to more than 80,000 workers during the pandemic, including those who lost their jobs at restaurants, hotels and food service distributors.
The company stated earlier this week that it plans to offer access to free COVID-19 testing by mid-May to frontline employees through its health care division if they have symptoms of the virus or medical needs based on the Centers and Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.