Kroger ending $2 an hour “hero pay” bonus for workers

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The coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 80,000 Americans rages on, but Kroger is already ending a modest “hero bonus” for the supermarket chain’s workers, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Since April, the country’s largest grocery chain has been offering an additional $2 an hour to tens of thousands of workers, who viewed as essential workers.

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Four Kroger employees in Michigan are among the dozens of grocery store workers around the country that have died of COVID-19, the company told the Detroit Free Press. Thousands of others have tested positive, according to the UFCW, which represents 55,000 Kroger workers.

Kroger did not return a request for comment from CBS MoneyWatch. It defended its decision in a statement to newsletter Popular Information. 

“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 we all work together to gradually and safely reopen the economy,” a spokesperson told the newsletter.

Kroger repurchased $355 million of its own shares in the first quarter, and holds about $2.3 billion in cash and temporary cash investments. The Cincinnati-based chain operates 2,758 grocery stores in 35 states and tallied 2019 sales of $122.3 billion. It employs nearly 500,000 people.

How to grocery shop safely during the coronavirus pandemic

In March, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen had lauded the chain’s employees in a news release announcing the increased pay for Kroger’s hourly workers.

“Our associates have displayed the true actions of a hero, working tirelessly on the frontlines to ensure everyone has access to affordable, fresh food and essentials during this national emergency,” McMullen said. “The Hero Bonus is just one more way we continue to convey our thanks and gratitude not only to our existing associates but also to the more than 30,000 new hires who have joined in the past two weeks and those who will soon join the Kroger family of companies.”

In a national TV ad that ran Sunday on Fox News, Kroger offered additional thanks to its workers, with the company spending $340,000 to air its televised expression of gratitude, according to an estimate by iSpotTV. 

In an April 1 press release, Kroger said the pandemic “triggered a significantly greater lift in sales across both physical retail stores and digital channels in March,” with monthly sales up 30% from a year ago. Kroger added that it anticipates first-quarter sales to top its 2020 guidance.