The Reason Bernie Sanders Just Sent A Letter To The CEO Of Kroger

At the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic, Kroger supermarkets came through, giving workers an extra $2 an hour in the form of a "Hero Pay" bonus. Per CBS, that bonus ended in mid-May 2020. "Appreciation bonuses" and "thank you" pay also added a little extra to workers' paychecks. But all such programs ended, if Supermarket News is to be believed, in mid-June 2020.

Meanwhile, The United States, per The Wall Street Journal, continues to set records for COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Grocery store workers have been particularly affected. In late October 2020, CNN reported on a study showing alarmingly high rates of infection among grocery store employees, despite the fact that over 90 percent of study participants reported that they wore a face mask at work. A month later, CNBC talked to Kroger employee, Janet Wainwright, who alleged that "grocery companies like Kroger are choosing to make things worse," pointing to symptomatic employees who showed up to work because they couldn't afford to miss it.

Now, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 7 and 21, which together represent 30,000 Kroger Co. employees in Colorado, Wyoming, and Washington, have teamed up with Senator, and two-time presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Together, they're demanding Kroger recognize the extenuating circumstances that their employees face by "reinstating Hero Pay to all workers across the country."

Inside the letter that Bernie Sanders sent to Kroger

The letter that Senator Sanders and UFCW Locals 7 and 21 sent to Kroger exposes alarming statistics. In Local 7 alone, the letter alleges that "there have been 491 positive cases, a 692% increase, and three deaths" among employees since Kroger ended its "Hero Pay" program.

Kroger "ill-advisedly relaxed safety protocols and stripped away hazard pay on May 17, 2020," Sanders and the labor unions write, "These decisions blatantly disregarded the dangers Essential Grocery Store Workers faced, not just by going into work but also by weakening them financially when dealing with COVID-related hardships, such as lack of childcare due to homeschooling, sick relatives, and additional medical costs." The letter further calls for Kroger to enforce "mask requirements," and to reinstate and enforce "strict shopper limits to allow social distancing for all in the stores."

This is not the first time that Bernie Sanders has publicly advocated for supermarket workers' rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. In mid-August the senator made headlines when he tweeted that grocery store workers, "Deserve more than empty gestures from the corporations exploiting them—they deserve hazard pay and the protective gear they need." Meanwhile, in November 2020, The Washington Post reported on a Government Accountability Office study undertaken at Sanders' behest, and which showed that McDonald's and Walmart employees top the list of workers on Medicaid and food stamps.