After protests, Kroger will issue 'thank you pay' to front-line workers

The additional money means a lot to cashiers risking their lives to keep us fed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Kroger
Signage is displayed outside a Kroger Co. grocery store in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Kroger Co. is scheduled to release earnings on June 15.Luke Sharrett / Bloomberg via Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Thousands of grocery store workers who put themselves at risk of contracting coronavirus each day they go to work will be losing the "hero pay" they were given over the past few months for working during the pandemic.

Kroger, the nation's largest grocery chain, will take away the additional $2 per hour essential workers were earning as of Sunday. Amazon, Walmart, Target and Starbucks will eliminate the extra pay they have been giving associates by the end of the month as much of the country begins to slowly reopen.

Cashiers and shoppers alike were shocked to hear that the additional pay was ending as workers on the front lines are still risking their health — and the health of their families — by going to work. In response to protests and pressure, Kroger announced Friday that they will be allocating $130 million for full-time and part-time workers, in what they call "Thank You Pay."

"Our associates have been instrumental in feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic," said Rodney McMullen, Kroger's chairman and CEO in a press release. "To recognize and thank our associates for their incredible work during this historic time, we offered special pay in March, April and May."

Although the prior appreciation pay will come to an end, the Cincinnati-based company will offer qualified full-time associates $400 and part-time associates $200, paid out in two installments on May 30 and June 18. The company will continue to provide paid emergency leave for cases related to COVID-19 as well as other benefits, including free coronavirus testing when needed, masks for associates, mental health resources and more.

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Kroger said that its "Thank You Pay" is in addition to the "$700 million the Kroger Family of Companies has invested since March to reward associates and safeguard associates, customers and communities." Aside from its namesake stores, Kroger also operates Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, King Soopers and Smith's, among other supermarkets.

As Amazon announced it would also end its $2 per hour wage increase, workers told Business Insider said they were given "thank you" t-shirts, which one employee called "a slap in the face."

Starbucks, which raised its employees' pay by $3 per hour, will phase out the wage increase by the end of the month as more stores begin to reopen.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents grocery store workers, says at least 65 workers have died from the virus, while nearly 10,000 have been infected or exposed.

On Weekend TODAY, NBC's Jo Ling Kent spoke to Amanda Barr, an employee at King Soopers grocery store who came down with COVID-19.

"We're not doctors and we're not surgeons or anything but we are putting our lives at risk and we are putting our families at risk," Barr said.