- During a virtual press conference Wednesday, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) addressed its discontent with major food retailers including Walmart, Amazon and Kroger for ending their hero, hazard or appreciation pay.
- UFCW president Marc Perrone noted that at least 68 grocery workers from companies the union represents have died from COVID-19. At least 10,000 have been sickened by or exposed to the virus, a figure that has jumped by 200% over the last five weeks, he said.
- Perrone also pointed out that many of the country’s largest retailers, like Amazon, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Aldi and Kroger, have refused to release the number of their workers that have died or gotten sick from COVID-19 or been exposed to the disease.
During the call, Perrone reiterated the union's demand that food retailers continue providing extra pay to workers during the pandemic, and called on those that have ended their hazard pay to reinstate it until masks and other protective equipment are no longer necessary.
“This pay increase is essential to workers, and it’s been taken away even though these companies have record sales, profits and higher productivity,” said Perrone. “The pay cut is being implemented even though grocery workers are still dying.”
Perrone said he wants retailers that have stopped providing hazard pay to their workers to follow in the footsteps of companies like Albertsons, Safeway, Meijer, Stater Bros. and Ahold Delhaize, which are continuing to supplement wages as the pandemic endures.
Although Kroger’s hazard pay officially ended last weekend, the retailer offered frontline employees a one-time bonus of $400 to full-time employees and $200 to part-time after pushback from labor officials and members of Congress.
But Kroger employee Steven Brown said on the conference call that he’s seen his store’s morale take a hit since the announcement.
“We just want to feel the appreciation for the risks that we take every day and for you to understand that we are not here to cause any grief or problems,” he said.
Other Kroger employees on the call said there is a lot of fear and anxiety among workers, and that every day feels like a battle with the virus, partially because Kroger doesn’t require shoppers to wear masks in stores. The employees described situations where they were confronted by customers after asking them to put a mask on, and said they are now scared to even ask shoppers to cover their faces.
“When Kroger took away our hero pay, it felt like a slap in the face. Because Kroger is not requiring our customers to wear masks, it’s putting us in jeopardy. The spread of the virus hasn’t stopped, so neither should the protections or hero pay that our families need,” said Debbie Griffin, a 63 year-old Kroger cashier in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.