“It is insulting that we have worked through the pandemic, gotten sick with Covid, have long-term Covid effects and had to endure abuse from customers…. (but are) not paid a living wage.” – Checkout clerk, Fred Meyer, Washington
Researchers at The Economic Roundtable and Occidental College found that more than two thirds of Kroger workers struggle to pay for rent and food, due to poverty-level wages and part time schedules. Continued company cost cutting and resulting staff shortages have also threatened worker safety during the pandemic.
LOS ANGELES – Tuesday the Economic Roundtable released an independent research report, Hungry at the Table, analyzing the working and living conditions of over 36,000 Kroger workers in four states. Workers in eight Kroger-owned brands provided data for the report: City Market, Food Company, Food 4 Less, Fred Myers, Ralphs, King Soopers, Quality Food Centers and Smiths.
Although food surrounds Kroger workers, 78% report they are food insecure. They run out of food before the end of the month, skip meals and are hungry sometimes. 44 percent are unable to pay for rent and 14% are homeless now or in the past year.
“Every day is a struggle…I’m a single father and live pay check to pay check to feed my kids. Times when I couldn’t pay my rent, we ended up on the street. Thankfully I had my car so my family had …a somewhat safe place to sleep.” Food Clerk, King Soopers, Colorado
“Even though food surrounds Kroger grocery workers every hour on their job, over three-quarters are food insecure and 14 percent are homeless today or have been homeless in the past year. Kroger clearly has the resources to do better,” says Daniel Flaming, President of the Economic Roundtable.
At the same time, Kroger management’s cost cutting practices have compromised personal, health and food safety in stores. Over three-quarters report there are not enough workers at their store to complete assigned work, impacting workplace security, food handling safety and staff protection from COVID impacts. About the same number of all workers report ongoing stress and anxiety from their work conditions.
The COVID pandemic caused significant challenges for Kroger’s essential, front-line workers. Over two-thirds reported customer issues and abuse, and one quarter were confronted by customers who threatened violence. Workers said that store managers did not support them in a majority of these issues. Thirty-one percent reported manager retaliation if they raised customer and other issues.
“The Kroger CEO was given over $22 million in bonuses while worker bonuses and hazard pay were constantly cut or threatened. Employees at some points had no basic supplies, including paper towels and Band Aids. The company was making money hand over fist and did everything in its power to screw lower-level employees in the middle of a pandemic.” Section Lead, Fred Myers, Washington
Despite their workplace challenges, two-thirds express pride in the work they do. Sixty-seven percent identified their co-workers as the best part of their job. Many said they wanted more hours; however, Kroger’s cost-cutting practices limit two-thirds of their workers to no more than part-time hours. Frequent schedule changes for over fifty percent of the workers further jeopardize their finding other part-time work.
“Kroger is the largest supermarket chain in the US and one of the largest corporations in terms of revenues ($132.5 billion) and employees (465,000). Even as workers struggle, Kroger has prospered during COVID and increased executive’s pay by millions of dollars. Executives and other shareholders have also benefitted in 2021 from generous dividend increases and $1.3 billion stock buybacks, or four times workers’ COVID hazard pay,” reported Peter Drier, Occidental College Professor of Policy.
Recommendations for improving worker well-being are included in the independent research report, which was commissioned by four locals, 7, 21, 324 and 770, of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
Key findings from the report on wage impacts, food insecurity, housing and homelessness, working conditions, and COVID impacts, include:
- WAGE IMPACTS
- The real value of worker wages has declined 6% since 2010. 90% of Kroger workers report that food and rent increases have far exceeded pay increases.
- 67% of Kroger workers say they do not earn enough money to pay for basic expenses every month. 29% are below or near the federal poverty level.
- FOOD INSECURITY
- 78% of the workers report they are food insecure. They run out of food before the end of the month, skip meals and are hungry sometimes.
- 85% of single parents who work for Kroger are food insecure.
- Very low food security is a predictor of homelessness. 27% of Kroger workers with very low food security are, or recently have been, homeless.
- HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
- 44% are unable to pay for rent and 36% worry about eviction.
- 14% are homeless now or have been in the past year. Even 9% of full-time workers have been homeless.
- 44% live in inadequate housing (overcrowded quarters, autos, etc.).
- WORKING CONDITIONS
- 67% of the workers report that Kroger has increased their workload and 75% say they can’t complete all of assigned tasks.
- Over 58% have work schedules that change at least every week and 30% of the workers with young children are negatively impacted.
- COVID IMPACTS
- Over 67% reported COVID-related customer issues, 25% were confronted by customers who threatened violence.
- Store managers did not support workers in 57% of cases where workers were confronted by abusive or violent customers.
- 45% of the workers report manager favoritism and 33% report managers retaliating against those who question or complain.
The report can be downloaded at: https://economicrt.org/publication/hungry-at-the-table/
ABOUT THE ECONOMIC ROUNDTABLE
The Economic Roundtable is a nonprofit urban research organization based in Los Angeles that carries out large-scale data analyses to identify actionable solutions to social, economic and environmental problems. To learn more, please visit http://economicrt.org/.