Kroger’s end to Hero Pay will affect thousands of grocery workers in Milwaukee area

NOW: Kroger’s end to Hero Pay will affect thousands of grocery workers in Milwaukee area

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) - Kroger, the largest grocery store chain in the U.S., is ending their Hero Pay of $2 extra an hour in a few days. Kroger is the owner of Pick N’ Save and Metro Market. The cut will affect thousands of grocery workers in the Milwaukee area. 

The United Food And Commercial Workers Local 1473, along with the Teamsters Local 200 union, has sent a letter to the Kroger CEO asking them to extend the Hero Pay. The two unions represent nearly 6,000 Kroger grocery and distribution employees in the greater Milwaukee area.

The two local unions want the Hero Pay to continue throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It doesn’t make sense to us and it doesn’t make sense to our members that all of a sudden on May 17 they’re no longer heroes anymore,” said Melanie Bartholf with UFCW Local 1473.

Walmart announced Tuesday they were doing another cash bonus for employees to be paid out at the end of June. Target and Outpost Natural Foods have also extended their hourly bonuses until at least the end of the month.

Bartholf fears Kroger’s pay cut will influence other retailers.

“It’s like a domino effect with these large retailers, so that’s a concern,” says Bartholf. 

Employment research economists say the pay cut may be due to the fact that other businesses are starting to reopen, and some businesses may not have enough margin to continue bonus pays. They say some employers may also use the current high unemployment numbers as a bargaining tool.

“From a bargaining perspective, some of the employers may have decided that it’s not necessary to keep workers motivated enough to come in, that if they need to keep their jobs they’re going to do it, and if they don’t there are other workers available,” said Brad Hershbein, Senior Economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

“Hearing that the Hero Pay is going to end has been a huge morale hit to grocery workers at our Kroger stores,” adds Bartholf.

Hershbein says while the bonus pay is nice, he’s hearing from employees that what they really value is proper protection on the job.

“The common courtesy of just trying to protect their health -- the workers' health -- that’s going to be necessary for sustained growth in the businesses themselves. If workers get sick, you can’t run your business,” says Hershbein.

“Our members have been dealing with the change in their working conditions since this began and that has not changed,” said Bartholf. “So they’re still out there front and center dealing with that risk of exposure.”

CBS 58 reached out to Kroger for comment, but did not receive a response.

The company did mention in a press release last month that the pandemic had a significantly greater boost in sales for the month of March.

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