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·         Kroger CEO: No more hazard pay for grocery workers

·         Essential Workers Are Still Dying From Coronavirus



Kroger CEO: No more hazard pay for grocery workers

Coronavirus pay cuts for execs also ruled out


By: Dan Monk, WCPO Cincinnati (OH)

Jun 25, 2020


CINCINNATI — First came "hero pay." Then a "thank you" bonus.


Now, Kroger employees will have to be satisfied with gradual increases in wages and benefits.


CEO Rodney McMullen told the WCPO I-Team Thursday that Kroger will not re-instate the popular hazard-pay benefits it announced in March and continued into June.


This despite continued calls by union officials to bring back the $2-per-hour wage boost that Kroger and other grocery chains had been paying their essential workers.


Kroger held its annual meeting Thursday, an event in which McMullen usually fields questions from local reporters. This year, McMullen agreed to talk by phone, telling the I-Team that the company will see some permanent changes from the global pandemic that caused food shortages, surging revenue, binge buying and changes in consumer spending habits.


Kroger's local employment increased 33% to 20,000 since the pandemic began, while the company hired 100,000 people nationwide.


McMullen expects Kroger’s total employment — which peaked at 560,000 — to remain above 500,000 going forward. He also expects digital sales to remain at higher levels than the company achieved prior to COVID-19.


And he believes the company will benefit from a permanent shift toward eating at home.


“What we’re finding is people enjoy cooking more than they thought they would — at least, that’s what they’re telling us,” McMullen said. “They especially enjoy doing it with their kids, because it gives you a reason to spend time together. If your kids are happy, you’re happy.”


McMullen also foresees a permanent shift towards higher wages, even if it doesn’t come in the form of hazard pay.


“We had planned on incrementally investing $500 million a year in wages,” he said. “This year, that’ll end up being $800 million, and that’s brought our average hourly rate to higher than $15. When you include the value of our benefits, that takes it up north of $20 an hour.”


In October 2018, Kroger told Wall Street analysts...





Essential Workers Are Still Dying From Coronavirus


By Sarah Jones, New York Magazine/Intelligencer

Jun 26, 2020


Governors and mayors around the country are lifting lockdown measures and urging residents to pick normal life up from where they’d dropped it. But the coronavirus is not a historical artifact. Cases are spiking, people are dying, and frontline workers are still in danger from getting sick on the job. 238 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union have now died of the virus, president Marc Perrone said on a Thursday press call. Nearly 29,000 have been exposed to the coronavirus, or are currently ill. That figure includes workers in the retail, meatpacking, health-care, and food-processing industries who make up UFCW’s 1.3 million members.


“The human cost of the pandemic can’t be ignored, and it shouldn’t be hidden,” Perrone added.


But some powerful interests may prefer ignorance. The coronavirus, like any public-health crisis, was political from its genesis. But now it’s partisan, too. President Trump has hit the rally circuit, where going maskless amounts to a sign of devotion. The economy is improving, Trump insists; cases are going down, everything is great. Even some Democrats, like Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, are forging ahead with reopenings, despite the threat of viral resurgence. Essential workers, meanwhile, are caught between a paycheck and illness or death.


To protect these workers, employers and public officials alike would have to admit their reopening strategies may be premature and that masks are necessary, even if they’re slightly uncomfortable to wear. But despite rising cases in Texas, Arizona, and Florida, politics and pecuniary concerns are blocking basic safety measures. According to UFCW, many retail employers still aren’t requiring customers to wear masks. In the meatpacking industry, employer negligence continues to be particularly dangerous: Companies have abandoned workers — and nearby residents — to risk their chances with the virus.


A ProPublica investigation recently found that at plants owned by Tyson Foods, “best practices to protect workers, such as slowing the processing line to accommodate social distancing, installing plexiglass barriers and having workers wear masks, weren’t implemented until outbreaks began to occur.” In the days leading up to an outbreak at a Smithfield Foods pork plant in South Dakota, the company’s CEO told Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts that “social distancing is a nicety that makes sense only for people with laptops.” By late April, there were 783 COVID cases at the South Dakota plant. Two workers at the plant later died. The union estimates that nationwide, 65 meatpacking workers have died from the virus. 38 workers died in May alone, at a rate of over one death per day.


Grocery-store workers also continue to face enormous risks...


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