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Kroger workers plan car caravan protests to demand extension of 'Hero Pay'

Kroger recalls frozen berries. /: (MGN)
Kroger recalls frozen berries. /: (MGN)(WVLT)
Published: Jun. 10, 2020 at 12:15 PM EDT
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On Wednesday afternoon, Kroger workers will be staging a car caravan to demand the ‘hero pay’ the company originally gave workers be extended until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Kroger employees in Virginia and West Virginia will be staging car caravan protests in eight cities at 4 p.m. on June 10.

Employees and grocery store worker unions were outraged after the company

, which provided an additional $2/hour to employees for working through the COVID-19 pandemic, and replaced it with a one-time thank you bonus paid out in two installments.

The “thank you” bonuses of $400 for full-time workers and $200 for part-time workers were paid out, in part, on May 30, and the other part will come on June 18.

But UFCW Local 400, a grocery store worker's union, has promised to keep pressuring the company o provide bonus pay for as long as the pandemic goes on.

“COVID-19 is not going away soon,” UFCW Local 75 president Kevin Garvey said. "Our members still have to work in the same conditions and deal with the same pressures. They are worth every penny of the $2.00 premium and the (latest) bonus.”

The Cincinnati-based company did not address the dispute with its union when it announced the end of 'hero pay' and the 'thank you' bonuses in May. The grocer estimates the new bonus will provide $130 million to its workers.

“Our associates have been instrumental in feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic. To recognize and thank our associates for their incredible work during this historic time, we offered special pay in March, April and May,” said CEO Rodney McMullen, in a statement.

Nearly 13,000 employees, along with Kroger union members and UFCW Local 400, signed a petition that was delivered to the Kroger CEO, calling on him to extend the hazard pay program.

“With no vaccine in sight, Kroger workers will continue to risk their health, and the health of their families and loved ones, by coming to work,” the petition read. “Unlike most other businesses, Kroger is making more than ever right now. These heroes deserve to share in the financial success they have created for Kroger.”

Nationwide, UFCW International

and approximately 9,810 have been infected or exposed to the virus.

Those numbers, like all numbers for COVID-19, are likely an under-count, especially for areas like Virginia where the employers of people who contract COVID-19 are protected from being identified by state law, regardless of the status of outbreaks at their facility.

Car caravans are planned in eight locations around Virginia and West Virginia, with protesters scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. on Wednesday:

• Charlottesville, VA - Lowe’s, 400 Woodbrook Dr, Charlottesville, VA 22901

• Blacksburg, VA - Avelinos, 1440 S Main St Ste 110, Blacksburg, VA 24060

• Virginia Beach, VA - Lowe’s, 2403 Virginia Beach Blvd, Virginia Beach, VA 23454

• Richmond, VA - Dick’s Sporting Goods, 11800 W Broad St Richmond, VA 23233

• Lynchburg, VA - Big Lots, 20722 Timberlake Rd Ste A Lynchburg, VA 24502

• Beaver, WV - Hardee’s, 19 Ritter Dr, Beaver, WV 25813

• Parkersburg, WV - Old Kmart, 1050 Division St, Parkersburg, WV 26101

• Charleston, WV - Gabe’s, 5704 MacCorkle Ave SE Charleston, WV 25304

Kroger did not specifically address the protests, but on Wednesday, issued a release about the more than $800 million they've invested to "help ensure its associates were compensated, supported and protected" throughout the pandemic.

The company says they've donated $5 million to associates so far in 2020 through their Helping Hands Fund, a program created to financially assist associates during times of hardship due to an unexpected or emergency situation, like COVID-19.

Of the 110 stores in the Mid-Atlantic Division, 174 associates from 68 stores requested and received support from Helping Hands.

“Especially throughout the pandemic, the Helping Hands Fund is another way we let our associates know that we’re there for them for many of the hardships they’re facing and we understand that everyone needs a hand every now and then,” said Paula Ginnett, president of Kroger Mid-Atlantic.

In addition to the Helping Hands Fund, Kroger says they have invested more than $800 million to "reward and safeguard associates" since March, including hero pay, appreciation pay and thank you pay bonuses paid to hourly full-time and part-time associates.

The grocer equipped all stores with plexiglass barriers, social distancing decals and sanitizers and purchased personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gloves and face shields.

“Keeping our associates and customers safe is our top priority when they’re in our stores. This investment is worth every penny and we’re incredibly grateful for the dedication and service our associates have shown up with every day,” said Ginnett.

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