Why Kroger is ending its 'hero pay' for grocery workers

One new thing to come out of the pandemic, along with frog-shaped bread, previously secret recipes from McDonald's, Stouffer's, Disney, and the non-awaited return of "whassup?" is the fact that fast-food employees and grocery store workers have finally been elevated to hero status, along with their counterparts in the (usually) higher-paying fields of law enforcement and healthcare. At a time when many of us are lucky enough to be working from home, these employees are putting in longer hours under more difficult conditions than ever before, and at no small risk, as some grocery store workers have even died of COVID-19 contracted on the job.

While grocery stores have been taking measures to protect their employees' health and safety by implementing social distancing measures and in some cases even requiring that shoppers be masked, many chains also went the extra step to recognize the risk their workers are taking by remaining on the job with a well-deserved pay raise. Well, although the pandemic (and its danger) are far from over, one chain — Kroger — has evidently decided that its workers are no longer heroes, or at least no longer deserving of any heroic bump in pay.

Kroger feels they've already spent enough on their heroes

While Kroger is evidently still aware that yes, we've got a pandemic going on, having recently initiated free COVID-19 testing for all their employees, they also announced that the $2 per hour "Hero Bonus" pay raise that they'd introduced in March would be going away as of May 16. While at the time the pay raise was introduced, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen claimed to feel that his employees "displayed the true actions of a hero, working tirelessly on the front lines to ensure everyone has access to affordable, fresh food and essentials during this national emergency," he's now changed his tune and is singing a new verse that sounds rather off-key.

A Kroger spokesperson told Fox News that the chain's average hourly wage is $15, and, once benefits like health care are factored in, is really closer to $20. A recent poll by Indeed, however, shows that many of the frontline employees, the ones at most risk like store cashiers and sales associates, really only earn closer to $10 or $11 per hour. What's more, Kroger's implementing a pay cut (or at least eliminating a bonus) at this time may not prove to be in Kroger's best interest, since many grocery stores are still understaffed and struggling to find enough workers to cover all shifts.

The unions are fighting this decision

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents over 100,000 grocery store workers, is calling for Kroger affiliates in five states (California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming) to keep the $2 per hour pay boost. Fox 2 News in Detroit reports that the union is also calling on stores to do a better job of enforcing social distancing. While it's too soon to tell what the immediate effect of Kroger's decision will be, it may well have Kroger employees exploring employment options elsewhere with grocery stores such as Aldi who have yet to do away with their pandemic-prompted pay increases.

So if there's only one cash register open next time you go to Kroger, what are you going to do? Send up a silent "thank you" to Rodney McMullen for his wise decision to put shareholder profits above people? More likely, you'll choose to follow all those soon-to-be-ex-Kroger workers on their exodus to grocers that do a better job of paying (and thus retaining) their employees.