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Grocery Workers May Be Called “Heroes,” But Their “Hero Pay” Is Disappearing

4 27 22

Senior citizens line up at dawn waiting for the opening of a Kroger supermarket. Kroger is among more than 40 grocery chains that recently ended their $2 hourly "hero" pay raise for workers.Jim West/Zuma Wire

When Larry Franklin received an emergency coronavirus paycheck for $818.76 from the Ralphs grocery store where he’s worked for six years, he thought it was a sign of appreciation from his employer.

Franklin, a 39-year-old immuno-compromised cancer survivor, has been in quarantine since March. After working through the early pandemic days of panic-shopping, preparing carts for a deluge of customers lining up two hours before the store opened, his doctor ordered him to stay home. He received one week of paid sick time and a $300 bonus, but otherwise has been on unpaid leave.

But two weeks after he received the emergency check, he got a letter from the store’s parent company, Kroger, asking him to pay the money back. He had already spent it, paying off bills and buying groceries from the same Los Angeles–area Ralphs store where he works.

“That’s when my jaw dropped,” Franklin says. “I cannot believe you would put a policy in place and retract it for people who are really in dire health need right now.” (According to Kroger, the check was an error, but the company has since backtracked on its plans to ask employees like Franklin to return what it calls “overpayments.”)

Franklin is strategizing with his doctor about how to return to work safely. But even if he returns, he won’t be able to count on the “hero” pay his colleagues earned for the past two months: Kroger is one of more than 40 grocery companies ending the temporary pay boosts it implemented for workers at the beginning of the pandemic, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Kroger’s subsidiaries, including Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Mariano’s, and Ralphs, ended their $2-an-hour “hero pay” increases on May 17. Instead of an ongoing wage hike, Kroger will pay a one-time “thank you” bonus of $400 to full-time employees........

© Mother Jones