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Union Calls on Grocery Chain to Extend, Not Cancel, Hazard Pay

Kroger workers report having to pick up used masks and gloves after customers leave them in carts, and say many aren't following social-distancing guidelines. (Adobe Stock)
Kroger workers report having to pick up used masks and gloves after customers leave them in carts, and say many aren't following social-distancing guidelines. (Adobe Stock)
May 13, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After Kroger Co. announced it will be cancelling the extra hazard pay for its grocery-store workers nationwide on Saturday, the union representing Kroger's mid-Atlantic workers is urging that the bonus pay be extended indefinitely.

Scott Harshbarger, who works at a Kroger store in Barbersville, said he thinks employees deserve the extra $2 an hour in so-called "hero pay." He said so many customers break the rules of social distancing that he feels as though he's risking his life every time he goes to work.

"It feels like a slap in the face," he said. "Every time you go in, you don't know if you're going to be exposed to it that day or not. A lot of our baggers bring in carts; almost every other cart seems to have gloves left in 'em. Masks, you find 'em left on the ground."

Harshbarger is a member of United Food and Commercial Workers' Local 400. The union launched an online petition and is gathering signatures from thousands of Kroger union members in Virginia, West Virginia and border states.

Kroger corporate headquarters did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Union officials point out that Kroger is making higher profits than ever as grocery businesses experience a boom during the pandemic. In April, the Cincinnati-based supermarket giant announced a 30% increase in March sales. Harshbarger said it's no time to take away much-needed pay in a period of economic crisis.

"We've been relying on that extra money to pay bills, because we've got a lot of co-workers where some of their spouses, they're out of work, so now they're the sole provider of their household," he said. "So just the extra $2 an hour makes the difference between paying a bill or not."

Kroger also owns Harris-Teeter and employs around 460,000 workers nationwide. The "hero pay" began in early April.

Information from UFCW is online at ufcw400.org.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV