Despite being one of the nation’s largest retailers – that raked in billions during the pandemic – more than 60% of Kroger workers don’t make enough money to pay basic expenses; 68% are food insecure; 44% are unable to pay rent; 39% are unable to pay for groceries; and 14% are currently homeless or have been in the past year.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 – After more than 8,000 workers at 78 Kroger-owned King Sooper grocery stores in Colorado recently went on strike, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Thursday sent a letter to Kroger Chairman and CEO W. Rodney McMullen expressing his strong support for the workers and calling for Kroger to return to negotiations and reach a fair agreement with the union.
Sanders wrote to McMullen, “Your workers in Colorado tell me they have worked hard and been loyal to your company. Some have worked for your stores for 15 or 20 years and earn less than $20 per hour. It is time for Kroger to go back to the negotiating table and reach an agreement with the union that is fair and that treats grocery store workers with the respect and the dignity that they deserve.”
In their strike, the workers are fighting for increased wages, health and disability benefit improvements, and an end to the “two-tier” structure for vacation and holidays. After the tragic mass shooting at a King Soopers store in Boulder – as well as more than 1,000 Local 7 King Sooper employees contracting COVID-19 and five who have passed away – workers are also calling for increased workplace health and safety protocols.
One of the nation’s largest retailers, Kroger operates approximately 2,750 grocery stores under 25 brands, including Food 4 Less, City Market, Kroger, and Metro Market. During the pandemic, McMullen received a 45 percent pay raise and now makes over $20 million. Kroger is also making record breaking profits that for 2021 alone are expected to exceed $4 billion, and has provided over $1.5 billion in stock buybacks and dividends to enrich wealthy shareholders.
However, according to an internal Kroger 2018 memo, many of the workers at Kroger live in poverty and are forced to rely on food stamps and other forms of public assistance subsidized by middle class taxpayers. Over the past 20 years, conditions have deteriorated even further for Kroger workers, according to a recent report by Economic Roundtable. Sixty-three percent of Kroger workers said they don’t make enough money to pay basic expenses; 44 percent are not able to pay rent; 39 percent are unable to pay for groceries; 14 percent are currently homeless or have been in the past year; and 68 percent are food insecure – which is about seven times the rate of food insecurity compared to the broader population in the U.S. And for about 86 percent of its employees, Kroger is their sole employer and sole source of income.
“This is precisely the type of corporate greed that the American people are sick and tired of,” Sanders wrote. “Mr. McMullen: If Kroger can afford to pay you over $20 million and can afford to hand out $1.5 billion in stock buybacks and dividends for its wealthy shareholders, it can afford to provide grocery store workers – the true heroes and heroines of this pandemic – good wages, good benefits, safe working conditions and reliable work schedules.”
The Kroger strike comes amidst a wave of worker protests across industries and states, including at least 185 strikes at 255 locations in 2021. Sanders recently rallied in support of striking Kellogg’s workers in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and Tennessee; led letters of support for striking steelworkers in West Virginia, 1,100 miners in Alabama, more than 30,000 Kaiser health care workers, and bakery workers in California; and stood in solidarity with workers at John Deere, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Frito-Lay, Teamsters Hunts Point Market workers, GSOCUAW graduate workers at NYU, Churchill Downs, and more.
Read the full letter here.