The Texas Observer

POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE

DEPT. OF LABOR Of Heroes and Zeroes

APPRECIATION PAY. PROUD PAY. SERVICE PAY. THE kaleidoscope of PR names all amount to one thing: a small raise for the poorly paid food retail workers who risk their lives so the rest of us can eat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now—as infections persist and measures to reopen the Texas economy threaten a resurgence—companies are already clawing back these meager benefits.

Kroger, which is the nation’s largest grocer and operates stores across Texas, terminated its “Hero Pay” on May 17, about two months after instating the $2 hourly raise. Following outcry from employees and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), Kroger followed up with “Thank You Pay”—a one-off bonus between $200 and $400 paid in two chunks in May and June. But many workers see the bonus as a poor substitute and a cynical move to quiet bad press.

“They’re calling it a ‘thank-you bonus,’ but we think it’s just because we were complaining enough when they took the ‘Hero Pay’ away,” says Candice Oglesby, a 34-year-old floral manager at a Dallas Kroger and a mother of two. Oglesby preferred the longer-term hourly raise, which also boosted her overtime rate, to the bonus, which she describes as covering only “snacks for a couple weeks” for her kids. Researchers predict a surge in infections in Dallas this summer, so Oglesby remains at risk. “We’re still working through a pandemic, people are still getting infected, so why take anything back?”

Jackie Ryan, a cashier at a Kroger in the Dallas suburb of Cedar Hill, notes that the grocer is acknowledging the ongoing danger by requiring that workers wear masks and maintaining plexiglass barriers and enhanced cleaning routines.

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