As profits soar, company plans to close two Seattle QFC stores in retaliation for city’s hazard pay law
SEATTLE (Feb. 17, 2021) — The Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., which operates grocery stores in Washington state under the names of QFC and Fred Meyer, announced Tuesday that it was closing two “underperforming” Seattle QFC grocery stores in part because of the new Seattle ordinance requiring $4/hour hazard pay for workers in grocery stores amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
UFCW 21, the largest private sector union in Washington state with more than 46,000 rank-and-file members, represents workers at the two stores — Capital Hill (416 15th Ave. E.) and Wedgwood (8400 35th Ave. NE) — and released the following statement Tuesday in response to Kroger’s announcement:
Today, Kroger publicly announced the closure of two QFC stores in Seattle, in a transparent attempt to intimidate other local governments from passing ordinances that would provide hazard pay to front line grocery store workers. Essential workers, our local government, and our communities will not be threatened by this corporate bullying.
The COVID pandemic has caused serious illness and taken lives, and at the same time the amount of work and the level of stress and risk for grocery store workers has risen dramatically. Early on, companies like QFC agreed to pay $2/hour in hazard pay to employees all across the nation in acknowledgement of the risks workers faced and the essential nature of their work during a national crisis. Then they cut that pay in May — with no explanation. Kroger’s profits continued to soar, as did COVID cases, and as more and more people got sick, and more and more people shopped for groceries, restaurants and schools closed.
Workers have tried for months to get the hazard pay that was cut re-instated. But month after month the pay cuts were kept in place. The level of stress grew, as did concerns about safety, higher workloads, fewer workers on shift, more customers, and rising COVID cases in stores. Several places in California passed local hazard pay ordinances. Kroger announced the closure of two stores in that area in retaliation against that local hazard pay law.
In January, things had reached a breaking point and, working with Seattle City Council, UFCW 21 members were able to help pass a local and temporary $4/hour hazard pay law. That pay went into effect on February 3. Kroger announced their Seattle store closures on February 16.
Today’s announcement by Kroger to close these two Seattle QFCs is a case of over-the-top greed and bullying, and it shows how out of touch Kroger is with our community. The public overwhelmingly supports hazard pay and supports our grocery store workers. Other grocery chains, including PCC locally, have actually expanded hazard pay to stores beyond Seattle and Burien which have now passed new hazard pay laws. Kroger’s closures threaten workers, as well as shoppers and our local community. We need safety concerns addressed and we need hazard pay expanded.
Kroger’s intent seems perfectly clear: They are announcing these closings to try and intimidate any other local communities here in our state or around the nation from passing hazard pay. If Kroger cares about their employees and the local communities in which they operate, they should expand hazard pay and improve store safety practices, not file lawsuits and close our neighborhood stores.
Also on Tuesday, Marc Perrone, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, issued the following statement:
“Kroger has literally made billions in pandemic profits off the sacrifices of grocery workers in Seattle and across the country. Kroger’s action today not only threatens these workers, but it also threatens the local food supply. Instead of doing what is right, protecting the community and providing the hazard pay for these essential grocery workers, Kroger is once again trying to intimidate local and national elected leaders. It will not work.
“Threatening frontline workers with ruthless job cuts and endangering the community’s access to food in the middle of a public health crisis is inexcusable and will only serve to strengthen this movement to provide hazard pay for frontline workers.
“Regardless of the city or state, America’s grocery workers have earned and deserve hazard pay as they face the daily risk of COVID exposure on the frontlines. With companies like Kroger refusing to provide proper safety equipment like N95 masks, grocery workers are being forced to use their own money to pay for PPE, making hazard pay more important than ever for these workers who are already sacrificing so much. Kroger’s actions are even more appalling given that major grocery chains like Trader Joe’s are doing the right thing by expanding hazard pay for all their employees. Kroger is not above the law and has a responsibility to abide by common-sense COVID protections for grocery workers, measures that cities are enacting as the risks continue for these frontline workers during this escalating health crisis.
“As America’s largest food and retail union, we will use every tool available to stop Kroger’s war on essential workers, including doing all we can to ensure that our local, state and federal leaders hold companies like Kroger accountable for flagrantly choosing to ignore their responsibility to protect our community and follow these critical health, safety and wage laws.”