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Kroger CEO blasted for $22.4m bonus after cutting employee Covid hazard pay

CEO of US’s largest supermarket chain accused of cutting workers $2-an-hour ‘hero bonus’ while awarding himself a 6% pay rise

Alice Hutton
Saturday 15 May 2021 19:04 BST
Related video: Stores dropping mask policies
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The CEO of Kroger, America’s largest grocery store chain, has been criticised for receiving a record $22.4million in compensation after slashing key workers’ $2-an-hour, Covid-19 hazard pay last year, according to reports.

At the start of the pandemic, Kroger chief executive Rodney McMullen announced a “Hero Bonus” for staff who were applauded for being key workers and keeping shelves stocked during the outbreak.

Kroger, which employs around 465,000 staff across 2,640 stores, saw profits rise last year from $122.29billion in 2019 to $132.5bn as widespread Covid lockdowns prevented people from eating out.

In May 2020 Kroger announced that hazard pay was being cut for employees in warehouses and stores where states allowed them to do so. In states where hazard pay is still required, Kroger have opted to close stores.

But according to a Bloomberg report this week on a Kroger regulatory filing, Mr McMullen was awarded $22.4m in compensation in 2020 by the company, a 6 per cent jump on the previous year.

Last year median pay for Kroger’s workers fell 8 per cent to an annual $24,600. Full-time workers were awarded a bonus of $300.

The Independent has contacted Kroger for comment.

Following news of the Kroger CEO’s bumper payout, Democratic congresswoman, Pramila Jayapal, tweeted: “How interesting. Kroger claimed they needed to close 2 Seattle stores because they couldn’t afford hazard pay for essential workers—but they could give their CEO his largest salary ever? Pay your workers. We know you can.”

Maria Hernandez worked for Kroger in Los Angeles before her store was shut down following a dispute over hazard pay rules in California.

She told The Guardian: “Why are they punishing us? If it weren’t for us they couldn’t run the stores. As a person we have value. As workers we have value. They don’t seem to care about you as a human being. They don’t care.”

John Grant, president of labor union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 in LA, said the action punished workers.

“They are, as best we can tell, the only grocery chain that is acting punitively and trying to punish workers in the community,” he said.

Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based online credit card processing company, Gravity Payments, who famously cut his own pay by millions so all employees could make a minimum of $70,000, tweeted a list of criticisms of Kroger.

He wrote on Friday: “Pandemic profits grew 70% to $2.8 billion... Doubled buybacks and dividends to $1.9 billion... Closed stores and laid off 250 workers where cities required $4/hour hazard pay... Cut median worker pay 8%, to $24,000... Gave CEO 6% raise, to $22.4 million.”

A Kroger spokesperson told Bloomberg that workers will receive $100 for getting vaccinated against Covid, and added: “Kroger continues to reward and recognize our associates for their incredible work during this historic time.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, billionaires increased their wealth by 54 per cent during the pandemic.

Median pay for CEOs at more than 300 of the nation’s largest public companies rocketed from $12.8m to $13.7m.

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