Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday threw his support behind thousands of striking Kroger workers and slammed the company's management for offering low-wage employees "insulting" raises while paying CEO Rodney McMullen over $20 million during the pandemic.
"This is precisely the type of corporate greed that the American people are sick and tired of."
In a letter to McMullen, Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote that "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 workersthe true heroes and heroines of this pandemicgood wages, good benefits, safe working conditions, and reliable work schedules."
"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," the Vermont senator continued. "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."
More than 8,000 employees of Kroger-owned King Soopers grocery stores in Colorado walked off the job last week after their unionUnited Food and Commercial Workers Local 7rejected Kroger's final contract offer as woefully inadequate.
"King Soopers is enjoying record profits while leaving its workers to struggle with low wages," said Kim Cordova, president of the union. "Grocery workers ensure that our communities have access to food, but they cannot even afford to feed their own families. This is grossly unfair."
According to a report published by the Economic Roundtable shortly before the strike began, "The living and working conditions of Kroger workers have declined markedly over the past 20 years."
"Kroger's current low-wage, part-time workforce strategy relies on poorly-paid, part-time workers with constantly changing schedules," the report found. "Even though food surrounds Kroger grocery workers every hour on their job, over three-quarters of Kroger workers are food insecure... More than two-thirds of Kroger workers struggle for survival due to low wages and part-time work schedules."
Early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, Kroger offered workers a $2-an-hour hazard raisewhich the company left in place for just two months before cutting off the policy, even though the virus continued to spread rapidly. Meanwhile, McMullen was gifted a hefty bonus, bringing his 2020 compensation to $22.4 million.
Sanders pointed to the pay hike in his letter Thursday, writing that McMullen "received a $6.4 million increase in total compensation (a 45% pay raise) and now make[s] over $20 million."
"Your company is making record-breaking profits that are expected to exceed $4 billion last year alone. Kroger has provided over $1.5 billion
in stock buybacks and dividends to enrich wealthy shareholders," Sanders added. "This is precisely the type of corporate greed that the American people are sick and tired of."