They Call Me a Hero Because I Work at Kroger, So Why Do I Feel Disposable?

A Kroger employee in Ohio says his "hero pay" didn't mask the fact that he was risking his life for a few bucks an hour. And now, even that's going away.
Alex Norcia
as told to Alex Norcia
Kroger worker
Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The first big red flag was in March, when my bosses at Kroger were talking about coming into work even if they got sick. And I wasn't just hearing that kind of shit from them: The guys on my shift, some of them didn't even think the coronavirus existed in the beginning. Now, they think that it's all been blown out of proportion. They just parrot back what Trump says on television.

Honestly, I wasn't that worried about getting the coronavirus at first either. I stock shelves overnight, from 11 until 7, in a small town in Ohio, and I only work with three or four other people, plus my department head who comes in halfway through the shift. But what I hadn't been thinking about were the vendors. They're not wearing masks, and we have to take their pens and sign their paperwork. They're coming from major cities, like Columbus and Cincinnati, and hitting all the other Kroger stores in between. Some trucks are even arriving from other states, like Kentucky.


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I only heard about the "hero pay"—the, like, $2 extra an hour—through our employee portal. It doesn't even really do anything: I get paid weekly. Normally, I make $10 an hour stocking shelves, and if I work 40 hours, it's only like 80 more bucks. There were some workers at Kroger who were happy about the hero pay, but I was never happy about it. I think it's just supposed to make us feel better about going to work during a pandemic. I kept hearing the phrase "essential worker" and thinking that was bad for us. I took it as meaning I was disposable. Like you put the infantry on the front line because they're cannon fodder. They call us "heroes" because they know there's a chance we end up dead.

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Not once did our managers tell us that we could take off if we got sick. I could probably request off a week now and not get fired. I wouldn't get paid for it because I'm still technically part time, even though I've been picking up more hours. Two weeks, I probably couldn't do that. The only people able to take off were older workers who are full time and have been there for 20 years. The only thing that they did tell me was that if I got sick was to let them know and not come into work.

Kroger employees in my store only started wearing masks like a week and a half ago, in early May. Until then, no one had really been saying much about any sort of precautions. Then all of a sudden, my store manager shows up when my shift is ending. She took us into her office, handed us a piece of paper to sign, and told us we needed to wear masks. I read the paper, and I asked her, "Why are we doing this now?" And she said that it was a precaution that the union wanted us to take. [Kroger is represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers labor union.] It didn't say that Kroger would fire us for not wearing the mask—just that if we get sick, it's on us. Nobody is doing temperature checks either.


The biggest misconception about the whole "essential worker" idea is that we all continue to do our jobs because we want to help our communities. But many of us just continued doing our jobs because the places where we worked stayed open. We had to work to make money. I would have happily sat at home, and waited this out with unemployment.

I started working at Kroger about a year and a half ago. Until the coronavirus, the stock was down. We were always red, and we were always slipping. Now, toilet paper is flying off the shelves. The first thing they did at my store was give us $25 on our employee card to spend in the store. I saw that as the buttering up process—we appreciate you, and things are starting to get worse. Tom Hanks gets COVID, so we get 25 bucks to spend on groceries. The next thing they did was give every part-time employee $150, and any full-time employee $300. It's like they spent those two weeks toward the end of March greasing us. Then later on they're, like, give them the hero pay. Now that they're taking that away, the company is saying that they'll help in other ways, like getting us tests.

Now there's also a COVID-19 button on the employee portal, and you click on it and there's a list of all the things Kroger is doing to make your life easier. Of course, it's a bunch of bullshit, but it's worded so well that any dumbass could look at it and think Kroger actually cares. But anybody with a brain knows that's not the case.

Kroger did not respond to a request for comment.

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