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Tuesday, September 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grocery union seeks to extend hourly ‘hero pay’ bonus

UPDATED: Mon., May 11, 2020

Plexiglass installed at a Spokane Rosauers  protects workers and customers. A union representing local grocery workers has asked Rosauers and other stores to extend “hero pay” to workers beyond May 17. (Courtesy of Rosauers Supermarket / Rosauers Supermarkets)
Plexiglass installed at a Spokane Rosauers protects workers and customers. A union representing local grocery workers has asked Rosauers and other stores to extend “hero pay” to workers beyond May 17. (Courtesy of Rosauers Supermarket / Rosauers Supermarkets)

The union representing grocery workers in Washington and North Idaho is requesting that Kroger Co. extend its hourly “hero pay” bonus for employees after the company announced it is discontinuing the premium on May 17.

Kroger Co., the parent company of Fred Meyer, implemented the hero pay bonus of $2 per hour in April for grocery employees, who are deemed as essential workers under the statewide stay-at-home order.

Kroger’s decision to discontinue hero pay is disappointing for employees putting their health at risk daily while working at grocery stores amid the coronavirus pandemic, said Eric Renner, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1439, which represents more than 2,500 members in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

“Healthcare workers have highest exposure (to COVID-19) and, then, there’s our workers,” Renner said. “Our members have not traditionally been paid to have that kind of risk and, so, the hero pay has been very helpful and has shown our members ‘you are out there risking your life right now and you are going to be compensated for it.’”

Kroger said in a statement it has invested more than $700 million to reward and safeguard employees, customers and communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

“In the coming months, we know that our associates’ needs will continue to evolve and change as our country recovers. Our commitment is that we will continue to listen and be responsive, empowering us to make decisions that advance the needs of our associates, customers, communities and business,” Kroger said in the statement. “We continuously evaluate employee compensation and benefits packages. Our average hourly wage is $15 and with benefits factored in, like health care, the hourly wage is over $20.”

The company also noted that it has provided new career opportunities to more than 80,000 workers nationwide.

“We are committed to the continued support of our associates’ safety and mental well-being, and we’ll continue our ongoing discussions on these critical aspects with the UFCW,” the company statement read.

Kroger had offered a one-time bonus to its employees in March, but the union negotiated a $2 premium for hourly wages that Albertsons, Safeway and Rosauers provided to their workers.

The union has also requested Albertsons – which owns Safeway – and Rosauers continue hero pay bonuses after May 16, but has not yet heard back from the grocers, Renner said.

Albertsons and Rosauers did not respond to requests for comment.

Seven local UFCW unions in the West and one Teamsters local union created a social media tag, #EssentialHeroes, in an effort to raise public support of a hero pay extension.

The unions, which represent 55,000 employees at Kroger stores in five states, are also calling on the company to improve store safety practices and provide COVID-19 testing for all employees.

“(Workers) are continuing to go to work and continuing to make sure people can eat,” Renner said. “The company’s sales are up immensely right now, so I don’t think it’s a lack of ‘we can’t afford to pay this anymore.’”

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