HOUSTON - Houston grocery workers picketed in a protest outside of Kroger in the Heights Thursday. Demonstrators told FOX 26 they are asking that the grocery chain stop cutting benefits for employees who are already risking their health by working through the pandemic.
The protest was organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers Labor Union.
Protesters say when the pandemic hit, Kroger gave them hazard pay to keep them working despite the risk of catching Coronavirus, but Kroger stopped offering hazard pay after two months.
Protesters say now Kroger is proposing other cuts like eliminating the employees’ health care trust fund.
“We don’t have a problem with serving the community, because as we took this job, this is what we signed up for,” said Connie Coleman, a 14-year employee of Kroger who participated in the protest. “The whole pandemic is just what we do, but at the same time we have a company that’s just not taking care of us, and it’s a hurting feeling.”
Protesters stood outside the entrance to Kroger, asking customers who were leaving the grocery store to sign a petition supporting their benefits as the union goes through contract negotiations with the company.
In response to protests against healthcare benefit cuts, Kroger sent this statement: “In every negotiation, our goal is to reach an agreement that is good for our associates and good for our stores, too. We are proposing to move our associates into our company health care plan rather than remaining in their current plan, which has experienced benefit cuts before and could do so again. This change will allow our associates secure and reliable health care for them and their families. So far the union has not allowed associates to vote on our offer. We will continue to do what is right for our associates, and we do believe a company-sponsored health care plan is the best option to ensure stable, reliable, and affordable benefits.”
Kroger also sent this statement responding the protesters’ calls to reinstate hazard pay:
“Our most urgent priority throughout this pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers while meeting our societal obligation to provide open stores, eCommerce solutions, and an efficiently operating supply chain so that our communities have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials. We are proud of our dedicated associates who are on the frontlines, serving our customers when they need us most. Since March, we’ve invested over $830 million dollars to reward our associates (i.e., Appreciation Pay, Hero Bonus and Thank You Pay) and safeguard our associates and customers. We also recently thanked our associates with a $100 store credit and 1,000 fuel points. We continue to listen to our associates and take steps to ensure their safety and well-being. We also continue to execute dozens of safety measures and provide support to our associates through benefits like paid emergency leave and our $15 million Helping Hands fund, which provides financial support to associates experiencing hardships due to COVID-19.”