Kroger markets to stop extra pay to crisis workers

Supermarket employees forced to work through the pandemic are now facing threats to their “hero pay” even as ornery customers refuse to wear masks while they shop.

Employee frustrations could soon reach a boiling point as the largest grocery chain in the country — The Kroger Co. — gets ready to revoke the extra $2 an hour it had been paying its 460,000 employees to work through the crisis although the coronavirus death toll continues to rise.

Kroger is ending the pay boost on May 23 and replacing it with a one-time bonus of $400 for full-time employees and $200 for part-time employees. But some workers say it’s not enough.

“We deserve hero’s pay until I no longer have to wear a mask,” said Kroger meat manager Kristine Holtham of Lansing, Mich., who spoke at a virtual United Food and Commercial Workers International Union press conference on Wednesday.

The UFCW is ramping up pressure on large companies that have profited off the pandemic — including Walmart, Kroger, Trader Joe’s and others — to continue so-called hazard pay and to require customers to wear face masks while shopping. Many retailers require their employees to wear masks, but do not ask the same of their customers.

Costco, the first and only national retailer to also require customers to wear face masks, has faced blowback from some customers, resulting in boycotts against the club retailer.

Employees at retailers who try to enforce local or state mandates requiring face masks in public places can pay a heavy price, including the security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Mich., who was killed after asking a customer to wear a mask.

Even in New York City, where the vast majority of grocery customers wear masks, there are scofflaws, said Morton Williams owner Avi Kaner.

“It’s a state law, but we are not enforcers of the law and we are not trained to enforce the law,” Kaner said. “The police come in our stores every day” over face mask calls, he said.

Some 68 UFCW grocery workers have died from the coronavirus, said UFCW President Marc Perrone at the press conference.

“But not one single large grocery [retailer] has released information on how many of their workers have died,” Perrone said. “And some of those companies have announced that they were ending hazard pay.”

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