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Stater Bros. Reinstates Hazard Pay, Most Grocery Companies Hold Back Wage Increase

A Stater Bros. Markets in Rancho Peñasquitos continues to serve shoppers as a...

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla

Above: A Stater Bros. Markets in Rancho Peñasquitos continues to serve shoppers as an essential business during a statewide lockdown order in California, Dec. 9, 2020.

Listen to this story by Jacob Aere.

Stater Bros. Markets are once again giving employees hazard pay, as COVID-19 cases are at their highest peak since the pandemic started.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW, came to an agreement Tuesday with the supermarket company to reinstate the company’s $2 per hour hazard pay.

It applies to all 18,000 hourly employees in its Stater Bros. store, distribution, transportation and construction operations, and corporate offices across California. The hazard pay will last for at least three weeks from the work periods that started Dec. 6 and 7.

In a company statement last Friday, Stater Bros. CEO Pete Van Helden said, “I continue to be proud of our employees who display their extraordinary dedication every single day and this wage incentive is but a small token of our company’s appreciation of their efforts.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Stater Bros. was like many other grocery companies who instituted hazard pay. The organization ended up extending their benefits five separate times to run through June 14.

President of UFCW Union Local 135 Todd Walters said Stater Bros. is now among the minority of grocery stores to reinstate bonus pay for their employees.

“Kroger which is Ralphs, Food4Less, they are not doing it. They were the first company to pull out from doing it. We’ve asked them continually to please reinstate the hazard pay,” Walters said. “Albertsons, Vons has given their workers a bonus, basically a $5 an hour bonus averaged over a week’s worth of pay, which is something. I recognize that, but they can do more too.”

A spokesperson for Kroger said the company has helped employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"On November 19, Ralphs and Food 4 Less provided all eligible frontline associates in our retail stores, manufacturing plants, distribution centers, pharmacies, and call centers with a $100 store credit just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday," said John Votava of Kroger. "Additionally, we allocated 1,000 fuel points for all associates to provide savings of up to $1 per gallon at all Ralphs and Food 4 Less Fuel Centers and participating Shell stations."

RELATED: Grocery Workers Keep America Fed, While Fearing For Their Own Safety

A grocery outlet that is giving additional pay to employees is Trader Joe’s, which is not part of the UFCW. In an email to KBPS, the company said they are continuing to provide “an additional $2 for every hour worked. The Thank You Pay will remain in place until AT LEAST March 31, 2021, or until we're no longer considered an essential business.”

The UFCW represents workers at some of the nation’s largest grocery store chains like Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons. It said that among their members, there have been at least 109 grocery worker deaths and over 17,400 infections or exposures to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.

Walters said more help is needed from employers as COVID-19 exposure has left grocery workers without many options.

“We’ve had members who have been quarantined numerous times. They don't have any sick leave left,” Walters said. “The lack of sick leave, the lack of paid leave is encouraging or forcing people to choose: Do I go to work to put food on the table, or do I stay home, which is the right thing to do, and not infect other workers?”

And the stress about grocery workers' health is only growing alongside the COVID-19 numbers.

“The stores are getting overcrowded,” Walters said. “In many cases, people are not managing the number of customers in the store which is creating a hugely unsafe environment for everybody in there — not just for the workers, but the public.”

The UFCW union is demanding that retailers and grocery companies also provide free personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests to all employees, in addition to hazard pay and COVID-19 related paid sick leave.

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Photo of Jacob Aere

Jacob Aere
Freelance Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a freelance reporter. In addition to covering the latest news and issues relevant to San Diego, I seek the overlooked voices of our community to tell their stories.

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