Emerging reports from Kroger employees seem to show the company asking workers to repay the emergency "Hero Pay" they got early on in the coronavirus pandemic. Kroger has already come under fire for ending its Hero Pay program while the pandemic is still ongoing, and now some employees say the company is asking for some paid wages to be returned. Kroger has apparently told employees they were accidentally "overpaid."
For the first two months of the coronavirus pandemic, Kroger gave employees an extra $2 per hour — a kind of unofficial hazard pay for working through the crisis. On Thursday, Dissent Magazine published a report appearing to show that multiple Kroger employees have received letters informing them that they were "overpaid" during this period by mistake, and asking them to choose a method for repaying the money. As the story spread on social media, more employees came forward, raising some questions and outraging workers, labor advocates and customers alike.
Kroger asking workers to return some of the extra pay they received pic.twitter.com/WPtAsYRAOb— steele (@laborseller) May 18, 2020
Dissent reporter Sarah Jaffe spoke to one Kroger employee, Veronica Copeland, who took a leave of absence from work during the pandemic due to her autoimmune disease. Through Copeland, she contacted the UFCW Local 400, a union representing 13,000 Kroger employees. The union said that "numerous" employees have received collections letters like Copeland's, indicating that it is not just happening to those who took off work during the pandemic.
An apparent copy of one letter posted on social media read: "As you may be aware, you were overpaid your Emergency Pay in the gross amount of $461.60 during the time frame of March 1, 2020 to current. Please see options for repayment below." The employee was then offered a chance to repay the amount in one, three or five installments, which would be taken out of their next few paychecks. "Failure to repay the overpayment amount could result in further collection efforts," the letter added.
UFCW Local 400 advised employees not to sign anything or repay the amount until it had thoroughly investigated each claim. Meanwhile, critics came down on Kroger on social media, while some readers tried to reason out how an error like this could be so widespread. Through all of it, Copeland pointed out that Kroger has not had a downturn in profits during the pandemic — quite the opposite.
"They are making money hand over fist," she said. "Before all this started, two weeks before I went off, we had our first million-dollar week ever. A million-dollar week in our little tiny store, and we've hit it now a few times. They are definitely making a lot of money. The grocery stores have the monopoly on everything. I just don’t know what they’re thinking in the middle of all of this demanding repayment."