Union blasts Kroger for ending COVID-19 wage boost

The Detroit News

The Kroger Co. is ending a $2-an-hour coronavirus pay bump for front-line workers and replacing it with one-time bonuses, a move that's drawing criticism from the union that represents many of the grocery chain's employees.

The company said in a news release that "Thank You Pay" bonuses of $200 for part-time workers and $400 for full-time workers will be paid in installments on May 30 and June 18.

Shoppers seen outside the Kroger at 16919 Kercheval in Grosse Pointe on April 11, 2020. Kroger announced that four employees at four Metro Detroit locations have died after contracting COVID-19.

"Our associates have been instrumental in feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic. To recognize and thank our associates for their incredible work during this historic time, we offered special pay in March, April and May," said Rodney McMullen, Kroger's chairman and CEO.

"As the country moves toward reopening, we will continue to safeguard our associates' health and well-being and recognize their work," he said. "At the same time, we will continue running a sustainable business that provides steady employment and opportunities to learn and grow for over half a million associates."

Cincinnati-based Kroger had announced the temporary wage increase April 1 for about 460,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, including about 17,000 in Michigan.

In a statement, UFCW international president Marc Perrone said the union is "extremely disappointed by Kroger's move ending the wage boost.

"At the beginning of this crisis, Kroger first called these workers 'heroes' and now they have decided that they’ve stopped being heroes," Perrone said. "The simple fact is that the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Social distancing continues. Kroger workers are still required to wear masks. There is no vaccine. "

He continued: "This decision is even more inexplicable given that sales are up and profits are up. The reality is that Kroger is choosing to ignore this pandemic. This is not how we treat heroes in America."

The union said at least 65 grocery workers have died, and at least 9,810 have been infected or exposed to the novel coronavirus. Several grocery workers in Michigan have died of COVID-19.