Kroger has unveiled a massive new worker pay initiative, including a $100 bonus for employees who get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The company plans to spend at least $50 million more to thank and reward its associates, including offering a $100 store credit and 1,000 fuel points to its hourly front-line grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates. Kroger will also provide a one-time payment of $100 to all associates who receive the full manufacturer-recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. That's a total investment of $1.5 billion in fiscal 2020 in rewarding front-line associates since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kroger said associates who cannot receive the vaccine due to medical or religious reasons will have the option of completing an educational health and safety course to receive the payment.
Aldi, Trader Joe's, Dollar General and Instacart have also announced that they would pay workers to encourage them to get vaccinated.
"Through the unknowns of this pandemic, our associates have risen to the challenge and shown the true meaning of Our Purpose—To Feed the Human Spirit," said Tim Massa, Kroger's chief people officer. "Since March, we have invested more than $1.5 billion to both reward our associates and to safeguard our associates and customers through the implementation of dozens of safety measures that we continue to execute today. We've also welcomed more than 100,000 new associates to The Kroger Family of Companies. As we move into a new phase of the pandemic, we're increasing our investment to not only recognize our associates' contributions, but also encourage them to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as it becomes available to them to optimize their well-being as well as the community's."
Kroger and other grocery companies have been under pressure to increase employee wages as the pandemic rages on. While some grocers have boosted wages and kept the increases throughout the pandemic, other grocers have allowed those increases to expire.
Dozens of jurisdictions across the country are considering or have approved mandated pay increases for grocery workers, including in states such as California, Oregon, Washington and New York.
Last week Trader Joe’s announced its employees will temporarily receive an extra $2 an hour. That bump is on top of a previous $2 an hour bump employees received at the start of the pandemic. In a letter management wrote to employees, as reported by The Seattle Times, the company cited the recent hazard pay ordinances passed in Seattle and in cities across California in its decision to boost pay for employees.
Kroger announced last week that it plans to close two of its stores in Long Beach, Calif., after the city mandated a $4 raise for grocery workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 1.3 million food workers including Kroger union members, said the company needs to do more.
"Kroger workers deserve free vaccinations for the risks they have faced and continue to face as COVID cases increase," UFCW President Marc Perrone said. "This one-time payment from Kroger is appreciated, but given the way the company has treated its workers during the pandemic, it does not recognize the contribution of these essential workers to our nation or the risks they face daily."
Kristal Howard, Kroger's head of corporate communications, told NPR that Perrone's statement "inaccurately suggests vaccines are not being provided for free to all employees ... all U.S. citizens for that matter. The $100 one-time vaccine payment is not a subsidy. It's another way Kroger is motivating its workforce to optimize their health."
In addition to the new vaccine payment and associate rewards, Kroger has taken numerous actions to support associates during this extraordinary time, including:
- Providing additional pay, multiple special bonuses and rewards that are available to view at KrogerCovidResponse.com
- Offering COVID-19 testing to associates based on symptoms and medical need
- Continuing to advocate on behalf of front-line associates to have priority access to the vaccine
- Providing COVID-19 Emergency Leave to associates most directly affected by the virus or experiencing related symptoms and providing paid time off
- Requiring and supplying masks for associates and encouraging them to stay home if they are sick
- Requiring customers to wear masks in stores, or alternatively, encouraging the use of e-commerce services
- Providing comprehensive benefits packages, including health care coverage and retirement benefits
- Making $15 million available through the company's Helping Hands fund to provide financial support to associates experiencing certain hardships due to COVID-19
- Making mental health resources readily available
- Continuing implementation of customer capacity limits
- Continuing the use of safety partitions and physical distancing floor decals
"We know that the most effective defense against this pandemic comes in the form of the COVID-19 vaccine and the continuation of the rigorous safety precautions we've established across our stores, manufacturing facilities and supply chain," said Dr. Marc Watkins, Kroger's chief medical officer. "We are strongly encouraging all customers and associates to receive the vaccine to curb the spread of COVID-19, and we'll do all we can to ensure they have access as soon as it's available."
Meanwhile Kroger Health continues to play a critical role in helping distribute the vaccine in collaboration with public health officials and community partners. As of Feb. 5, Kroger Health professionals have administered more than 200,000 COVID-19 vaccines to essential health care workers, skilled-nursing facility employees and residents and some elderly populations.
Kroger Health continues to hire to fill the need for 1,000 additional health care personnel, including pharmacy technicians, to support operations and the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Cincinnati-based Kroger employs nearly half a million associates who serve 9 million-plus customers daily through a seamless digital shopping experience and 2,800 retail food stores under a variety of banner names. The company is No. 3 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2020 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.