Grocery workers protest end to ‘Heroes Pay’ and call for tougher safety measures

Howard Simmons, a grocery clerk at Ralphs, was suddenly struck by the coronavirus while working. On Friday, May 15, Simmons and other grocery workers protested the end of “hero pay” benefits for essential workers. The protesters also called for better disinfecting protocols.

A group of workers and union representatives gathered outside a Food 4 Less in north Long Beach to protest the end of the pay bump enacted by Kroger grocery stores.

On Friday, May 15, employees and union representatives from UCFW local 324, lined up with signs to express their disapproval of the end of the $2 “Hero Pay” increase, which is set to end on May 17.

According to Andrea Zinder, the president of UCFW local 324, two weeks ago Kroger informed employees and the union that it would be ending the program– despite the continuing health crisis.

“In the past week, a Ralph’s employee died from COVID,” Zinder told the Signal Tribune on May 15. “Everyday we hear about another employee who tested positive.”

Besides the loss of the pay bump, workers are calling for better cleaning protocols at Kroger-owned stores such as Ralphs and Food 4 Less and testing for employees.

Zinder believes that a store should be temporarily shut down when an employee tests positive and completely disinfected.

“It would not only protect workers, but it would protect the community,” Zinder said.

Howard Simmons, a grocery clerk at Ralph’s, tested positive for the coronavirus and was at home for 27 days– where his family also contracted the disease.

“We take home a paycheck,” Simmons told the Signal Tribune. “We [don’t] intend to take home the virus.”

Like many employees, one of Simmons’ main concerns is how the stores are disinfecting the building.

“The cleaning that is going on is done by 16-year-old kids. We need to have professionals,” he said.

He also stated that most employees are pushing themselves past their limits to meet the increase in demand.

Due to many restaurants being closed, grocery stores are seeing an increase in customers, and workers are working extra hard to keep up with the demand.

There is also concern that some stores are not informing employees of when a co-worker tested positive for the coronavirus.

Many of Simmons’ co-workers did not know he was diagnosed with the coronavirus until he returned to work almost a month later.

Rex Richardson, the councilmember for the 9th district, where the Food 4 Less is located, also attended the event to lend his support for essential workers.

Richardson, who has worked with store management and the union to settle labor disputes in the past, expressed his support for the continuation of the hero pay as long as the health pandemic continues.

He continued by stating that the health pandemic is expensive for employees who have to take extra measures to stay healthy on top of their normal expenses.

“These people have been here for the last eight weeks of this pandemic and they need to have the reserves they need to take care of their families,” Richardson told the Signal Tribune.

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