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Stores changing hazard pay benefits for front-line workers

Updated May 20, 2020 - 8:59 am

Two months into the pandemic, some stores are extending hazard pay for front-line workers only until the end of May, and some are replacing it with one-time “thank-you” bonuses.

Union members want to see the pay continued, saying the risks from the coronavirus are still there.

The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has 1.3 million members in Las Vegas and across the country, has pressured big retailers to keep providing the extra cash.

“It is our sincere hope that you will do what is right for your brave workers—the very workers who ensure the success of your companies—and their families,” Marc Perrone said in a letter to 49 supermarket CEOs. “More directly, we hope each of you will recognize that these food and grocery store workers did not simply stop being heroes. They are not facing fewer hazards. And they surely do not deserve less appreciation.”

Kroger, which owns Smith’s Food and Drug stores in the Las Vegas area, is ending its $2-an-hour “hero” bonus to workers on May 23. In its place, the company said it will hand out a onetime $400 “thank you” payment to full-time employees and $200 to part-time employees in two installments on May 30 and June 18.

“Our associates have been instrumental in feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic,” Kroger chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen said in a recent statement. The extra pay, he added, thanks the employees for their “incredible work during this historic time.”

Albertsons, which also owns Vons, said it is extending its $2-an-hour extra pay to workers until May 30. But spokeswoman Nancy Keane said she could not comment on whether the company would continue the bonus beyond that date.

Mike Gittings, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 711 in Las Vegas, said that both Kroger and Albertsons have not told the union whether they will extend extra pay beyond their latest deadlines.

“We hope they would continue to make the payments,” said Gittings, whose union represents more than 7,000 workers at dozens of Smith’s, Albertsons and Vons stores in valley. “The workers deserve it. They’re still facing the same risks every day.”

Nonunion retailers

Several nonunion retailers operating in Las Vegas also have announced extra pay extensions or bonuses.

Walmart, which handed out $365 million in cash to workers in April, said it plans to pay an additional $300 to full-time employees and $150 to part-time workers on June 25.

“People working in retail are providing a critical service to this country in the midst of a historic crisis,” Walmart spokeswoman Tiffany Wilson said. “In less than three months, we’ve invested nearly $1 billion in our associates.”

On Monday, Target CEO Brian Cornell informed its employees the company was extending a number of benefits, including its $2 temporary wage increase, through July 4.

“At the outset of the pandemic, we knew there was a long road ahead, that we would have to pace ourselves,” Cornell said in a company email. “These pay and benefits extensions are intended to help you and your family do just that as we all continue to support each other and move forward.

“Your efforts on behalf of our guests and communities have been nothing short of stellar, and I can’t thank you enough.”

A Whole Foods spokeswoman said the company is continuing its $2-an-hour bonus to full-time and part-time employees until May 31, but would not say what the company would do beyond the end of the month.

Costco would not comment on whether a $2-an-hour appreciation pay instituted in March would be extended.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

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