The hazard is not over

Local 555 has been hard at work every single day during this unprecedented time, working with governments, other locals and all of you to fight for all our members need and deserve. All these voices raised together in solidarity is a powerful and persuasive tool! So far, we have negotiated bonuses and hazard/hero pay, expanded leave and COVID-related medical programs, employer-provided PPE, in-store social distancing, and more.

However, as long as the global threat posed by COVID-19 continues, we’re not done fighting this fight. Grocery stores need to provide a safe and fair work environment for their employees, and our communities need grocery stores up and running so we can feed our families. That’s why we continue to push for an extension of hourly hazard pay, social distancing and health monitoring measures, higher quality PPE for members, and mask requirements for customers.

Over the past few months, we have heard countless, moving stories from our members about their daily struggle with working under the COVID-19 pandemic. Most employers have taken some steps to provide safer working conditions, and some have provided some form of hazard pay. While Safeway/Albertsons provided $2 per hour hazard pay, Kroger initially only offered a modest onetime bonus. After a widespread nationwide public outcry, the country’s largest grocery chain later adopted a similar hazard pay structure. Of note: Kroger’s sales have jumped massively during the pandemic (same store sales were 30 percent higher in March 2020 than the year prior). In other words, they are certainly profiting during this difficult time.

Now, they’re among the first to withdraw hazard pay, replacing it with a “thank you” bonus to be paid out over 5 weeks, which, unsurprisingly, works out to less than the hazard pay equivalent for most members. The hazard certainly isn’t over, and our members continue to report that Kroger continues to place them at unacceptable levels of risk:

  • Many of you are reporting a constant wave of “Black Friday level” customers in your stores, including many maskless customers who refuse to enforce social distancing recommendations and in some cases have even touched, coughed or sneezed on members.
  • Fred Meyer’s 50% customer capacity limit does not take into account that the crowding is in the grocery department, not spread evenly throughout the entire store.
  • Fred Meyer still refuses to require customers to wear masks while in stores, while at the same time, requiring members to wear one. Cloth masks are primarily intended to protect the people around the wearer from droplets. In other words, employees are required to protect customers, but customers are not required to protect employees.

Again throughout all of this, your union leadership is in constant negotiations with employers for better safety measures and pay.

There is good news to report, however. We already have a strong track record of pressuring these employers into protecting their employees throughout the pandemic. Kroger structured their first hazard compensation so most employees were classified as part-time, we fought to ensure part-time and full-time classification was made fairly, and successfully pushed for hourly hazard compensation. When Kroger “overpaid” some workers, they demanded that workers pay back the money caused by their own accounting mistakes. Massive public and union pushback quickly led to Kroger retracting the repayment demands. Every victory large and small in this crisis has come from joining our voices and pushing for what is right.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to all our members, as well as family and friends of the 555, for keeping America well supplied during this incredibly difficult season, sharing your stories, speaking out on these issues and keeping public pressure on the employers. Your frontline efforts have made a measurable difference and shown the true meaning of solidarity. Thank you.