Kroger, the parent company of Fred Meyer and QFC, announced Wednesday that it will offer a temporary $2-per-hour pay raise and additional benefits to workers at its stores due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Kroger operates six Fred Meyer locations and one QFC in Clark County.
The increases are expected to impact more than 460,000 Kroger grocery workers nationwide, including more than 13,000 workers at Washington Fred Meyer and QFC locations, according to a joint press release from Kroger and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents grocery workers at Kroger stores.
The raises and benefits were announced following talks between Kroger and the union, according to the press release. Many businesses have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak or temporarily shuttered by mandatory stay-at-home orders, but grocery stores have been an exception.
Grocery stores both locally and throughout the country have reported large surges in customer traffic in the past month as shoppers have rushed to stock up on supplies in anticipation of being stuck at home for long periods of time during the outbreak.
Several major grocery store chains have had to curtail their hours in order to give workers more time to restock shelves, and chains including Fred Meyer, Walmart, Safeway and WinCo Foods have all gone on hiring sprees in order to keep up with the demand.
Washington’s stay-at-home order lists grocery stores as an essential service that can continue operating during the pandemic.
The $2 pay increase will apply to frontline associates at Fred Meyer and QFC stores, as well as manufacturing plants, distribution centers, pharmacies and contact call centers. The increase will be in place for the next three weeks, according to the press release, after which Kroger and the union will “revisit discussions.”
The primary new benefit is emergency paid sick leave for associates affected by COVID-19. The benefit will ensure that workers who have been diagnosed and placed in quarantine, or are experiencing symptoms and self-isolating, “can recover with the financial support they need,” according to the press release.
The press release also announced new cleaning protocols which will allow associates to wash their hands and sanitize their registers every 30 minutes, among other steps.
Store hours will also be shortened to allow more time for restocking, and Plexiglas partitions will be added at check lanes, pharmacies and Starbucks registers at all stores, along with floor decals to promote physical distancing at check lanes and counters.
The press released also announced that Kroger would implement a new benefit called ExpressPay that “allows most hourly associates to access some of their pay faster,” although it did not explain what that would mean in practice.
Kroger will also make $5 million available through its Kroger Family of Companies Helping Hands fund for those facing COVID-19-related hardships, including lack of access to child care. The company also said it would set up an employee hotline to answer benefit questions quickly, and provide access to mental health services for associates.