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Front-line workers to lose coronavirus 'Hero Bonus' pay from Fred Meyer

The union that represents grocery workers in the Portland metro area has asked Kroger to extend the bonus pay until Gov. Kate Brown ends the state of emergency.
Credit: Don Ryan
A Fred Meyer store in Portland, Ore.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer, is ending the additional $2 hourly bonus that has been paid since late March to its front-line workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson for Fred Meyer confirmed the hourly bonus will end in mid-May.

Dan Clay is the president of UFCW local 555, which represents grocery store workers in the Portland metro area. He said the union has been told the bonus wage will only be paid through Saturday, May 16.

Clay said the union's asking Fred Meyer and Kroger to extend the bonus pay until Gov. Kate Brown ends the state of emergency order for Oregon.

"I'd like them to tie the hazard pay to the emergency order. Once that's over, if they cut the hazard pay, I'd still like my members to get it, but at least that makes sense, whereas their current position doesn't," Clay said.

Clay said the general feeling he's getting from union members is frustration. 

"My members are telling me they're still super busy with customers, they're still coming into contact with people who could have COVID-19," he said. "We're considered essential employees, but it doesn't mean we're being treated like we're essential. My members feel like they're being treated as disposable."

Clay said he hopes Kroger will change its mind and extend the bonus pay.

"Things aren't normal in grocery stores at this point," he said. "Things are slowly heading in the right direction, but we're not there yet."

The union started a petition asking Kroger to extend the bonus pay and is featuring comments about the loss of pay from some of its members on its Facebook page.

Karen, a member who works at Fred Meyer, wrote that she doesn't feel safe at work and believes the bonus pay is needed.

"We should continue to get 'hero' pay for as long as the state is in lockdown," Karen wrote. "I don't feel safe at work, haven't since this all started ... If I could afford to not work right now, I would not be there."

Another Fred Meyer employee and union member, Colleen, wrote that the increased workload is taking a toll on workers. "The $2.00 an hour pay raise gives us incentive and makes it worthwhile to keep up this insane production," she wrote.

Kroger, the country's largest grocery chain, first announced the "Hero Bonus" on March 31. The company also paid a one-time bonus of $300 to every full-time worker and $150 to every part-time worker on April 3.

RELATED: Fred Meyer to give hourly front-line workers ‘hero bonus’

At the time, Kroger lauded its employees.

"The true heroes in this story are our associates, and we want to provide them with additional resources and support to help them continue their remarkable effort," said Rodney McMullen, the chairman and CEO of Kroger.

But in a statement emailed to KGW on Wednesday, Kroger justified its decision to end the bonus pay:

"Our temporary Hero Bonus is scheduled to end in mid-May. In the coming months, we know that our associates' needs will continue to evolve and change as our country recovers," the statement read. "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. We continuously evaluate employee compensation and benefits packages."

The company noted that the average hourly wage for Kroger's workers is $15 and when benefits are factored in, the hourly wage rises above $20.

"The Kroger Family of Companies has invested over $700 million dollars to reward our associates and safeguard associates, customers and our communities during the pandemic," the statement read. "We have also provided new career opportunities to more than 80,000 workers nationwide, including those from the hardest-hit sectors like restaurants, hotels and food service distributors, to support our retail, ecommerce, manufacturing and logistics operations."

The move to end the bonus pay for employees comes after McMullen, Kroger's CEO, was given a 21% pay raise (about $2.5 million) in the past fiscal year for a total compensation package of $14.2 million.

Kroger operates 2,758 grocery stores in 35 states and employs nearly 500,000 people. According to CBS MoneyWatch, Kroger repurchased $355 million of its own shares in the first quarter. Its 2019 sales were $122.3 billion.

On April 1, Kroger said its monthly sales for March were up 30% from the previous year and that it anticipated first-quarter sales would exceed its 2020 projections. In a press release, Kroger said the coronavirus pandemic had "triggered a significantly greater lift in sales across both physical retail stores and digital channels in March."

RELATED: Dissecting Phase 1 of Gov. Brown's reopening plan for Oregon

Amazon also increased its pay for hourly workers and has not announced plans to end that practice, according to an Amazon spokesperson. He said Amazon has also doubled the regular hourly base pay for every overtime hour worked and is offering extra time off with full pay for those diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Safeway and Albertsons also have no end date planned for their employees' "appreciation pay," according to Oregon and Washington spokesperson Jill McGinniss.

"We are working hard to treat our employees right," she said.

Read the full statement from Kroger and Fred Meyer:

Throughout the pandemic, our top priority is to provide and maintain a safe environment for our associates and customers with open stores, comprehensive digital solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain, so that our communities always have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials.

The Kroger Family of Companies has invested over $700 million dollars to reward our associates and safeguard associates, customers and our communities during the pandemic. We have also provided new career opportunities to more than 80,000 workers nationwide, including those from the hardest-hit sectors like restaurants, hotels and food service distributors, to support our retail, ecommerce, manufacturing and logistics operations.

Our temporary Hero Bonus is scheduled to end in mid-May. 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. 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.

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.

Here are a few of the ways we’ll continue to invest in, support and protect our associates:

  • Offering testing to associates based on symptoms and medical need
  • Providing Emergency Leave to associates most directly affected by the virus or experiencing related symptoms and providing paid time off
  • Supplying masks for all associates and encouraging them to stay home if they are sick and encouraging customers to wear masks in our stores, or alternatively, use ecommerce services
  • Providing benefits packages, which includes healthcare coverage and retirement benefits
  • Offering $5 million through our Helping Hands fund to provide financial support to certain associates experiencing hardships due to COVID-19, including childcare costs
  • Making available mental health resources
  • Continued implementation of customer capacity limits and special shopping hour for senior shoppers and higher-risk customers
  • Continued plexiglass partitions and physical distancing floor decals
  • Expanding Contact-free payment solutions like Scan, Bag, Go and Kroger Pay
  • No-contact delivery option, low-contact pickup service and a ship-to-home offering

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