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caption: Maria Rouse-Williams speaks to a crowd on Friday, May 15, 2020, at the Don't Cut Hero Pay rally outside of Fred Meyer along 1st Avenue South in Seattle. "I'm here not just for myself but for everybody in my store who needs representation -- who needs to be heard," said Rouse-Williams. "Nobody hears the essential workers." 
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Maria Rouse-Williams speaks to a crowd on Friday, May 15, 2020, at the Don't Cut Hero Pay rally outside of Fred Meyer along 1st Avenue South in Seattle. "I'm here not just for myself but for everybody in my store who needs representation -- who needs to be heard," said Rouse-Williams. "Nobody hears the essential workers."
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Kroger offers ‘thank you’ bonus after employees protest end of hazard pay

Grocery workers held demonstrations outside Fred Meyer stores in Burien and Bellingham Friday.

The Kroger employees at QFC and Fred Meyer were protesting the elimination of their $2-an-hour bonus pay.

Then Kroger chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen softened that news with an announcement of a one-time bonus to reward employees for their hard work “as the country moves toward reopening.”

In a statement Kroger said, “The one-time Thank You Pay, which will be $400 for qualified full-time associates and $200 for qualified part-time associates, will be paid out in two installments on May 30 and June 18.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 21, which organized Friday’s protests, responded in a statement that “Kroger’s decision today shows that we can have an impact.” But they said the one-time bonus is not enough, and they'll "continue to keep up the pressure for better pay, and for improving safety in Kroger stores.”

caption: The Don't Cut Hero Pay rally takes place on Friday, May 15, 2020, outside of Fred Meyer along 1st Avenue South in Seattle.
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The Don't Cut Hero Pay rally takes place on Friday, May 15, 2020, outside of Fred Meyer along 1st Avenue South in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Union leaders want Kroger to limit overcrowding, require that customers wear masks, and restore the hourly bonus. Marie Rouse-Williams is a union member and a cashier at the Burien Fred Meyer. She attended Friday’s protests and said the bonus pay “should be extended until this whole thing is actually taken care of.”

PCC Community Markets will grant $2-an-hour "appreciation pay" through May 23. The company implemented the increase on March 15 while Kroger offered it starting March 29.

Safeway has extended its $2-an-hour "appreciation pay" through May 30.

Rouse-Williams said she doesn’t think the danger employees face has been substantially reduced. “We’re all pretty terrified still,” she said. “I have coworkers who are still just like, ‘I don’t want to come into work' and I’m one of them. I was contemplating quitting a couple weeks ago, because this is getting out of hand.”

Rouse-Williams said she continues to see wild fluctuations in numbers of customers, including times when stores are overcrowded. “Consistently, every single day that I have worked at my store, this store has been packed,” she said.

caption: EJ Agoot holds a People over Profit sign while standing in solidarity with essential workers at the Don't Cut Hero Pay rally on Friday, May 15, 2020, outside of Fred Meyer along 1st Avenue South in Seattle.
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EJ Agoot holds a People over Profit sign while standing in solidarity with essential workers at the Don't Cut Hero Pay rally on Friday, May 15, 2020, outside of Fred Meyer along 1st Avenue South in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

This month, Kroger announced it will offer free Covid-19 testing to employees. Rouse-Williams said this is something employees wanted, but not their top concern.

“A lot of the issue isn’t just testing,” she said. “The issue is the amount of customers we’re still allowing into the store. The fact that we don’t have enough downtime to clean, to sanitize our hands. So I don’t think testing is necessarily the biggest issue in Fred Meyer."

Rouse-Williams and her husband are both working and have three children ages 10 and under. She said she’s been working longer hours than usual.

“We are actually paying more money for babysitters, and that hero bonus has actually been paying for babysitters so I can come into work,” she said.