Survey says 63% of Kroger workers can't cover basic monthly expenses

Kroger says the report is 'misleading.'
Kroger (KR) announces merger with Murray's Cheese
Posted at 1:00 PM, Jan 14, 2022

CINCINNATI — A Los Angeles-based nonprofit surveyed 10,000 Kroger Co. employees last summer in California, Colorado and Washington state. A startling number of those surveyed said they don’t make enough to pay for groceries and housing.

Kroger criticized the results as “one-dimensional” and “misleading.” But the study’s lead author defends his methodology and union leaders are using it to fire up the rank and file for a Denver strike and contract negotiations in other parts of the country.

“Staggering results,” said Kevin Garvey, president of the Local 75 bargaining unit of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in Cincinnati. “It definitely provides leverage against Kroger.”

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Four local UFCW bargaining units commissioned the survey, which posed 74 questions to Kroger employees in Southern California, Seattle and Colorado. The Economic Roundtable, a social justice advocacy group, sent questionnaires to 36,795 employees and got responses from 10,287.

“The issue they talk about the most is being overworked, being understaffed, having more work assigned to them that they can do and leaving their job with work uncompleted,” said Daniel Flaming, lead author of the study and president of the Economic Roundtable. “We also heard extensively about their difficulty getting by on the wages they receive.”


The 200-page report, “Hungry at the Table,” calls on Kroger to increase average annual pay by 54% to $45,760 and double the share of Kroger employees who work full time from 30% to 60%. As for the 10,000 employees who responded to the survey, the outlook is bleak:

  • 14% of Kroger employees were homeless at the time of the survey or experienced homelessness in the past year.
  • 36% worry about being evicted
  • 18% said they were unable to pay the previous month’s rent or mortgage on time.
  • 63% said they didn’t earn enough monthly to cover basic expenses.
  • More than 40% said they had to borrow money from friends or family in the last year.

“We used questions from a Department of Agriculture questionnaire,” Flaming said. “It’s a set of questions they use to assess peoples’ level of food security. Nationally 10 and a half percent of folks are food insecure. It’s 78% among Kroger grocery workers.”


In an email response to the findings, Kroger spokeswoman Kristal Howard said the company’s average hourly pay has increased 22% to $16.68 since 2017. It commits “hundreds of millions annually” to increase wages and benefits.

“We are proud to be one of America’s largest employers, with nearly half a million people,” Howard wrote. “Our culture of opportunity and advancement has created an environment where many people, whether it be a cashier, clerk, stocker, or pharmacy technician, come for a job and stay for a career.”

Kroger offers flexible schedules, tuition assistance, grocery discounts and access to “second-chance” jobs for people with criminal records. It employs people from the age of 14 to 95 and the average tenure of its employees is more than seven years.

“We are an employer who cares about the whole person and our associates’ basic needs,” Howard wrote. “If an associate is experiencing a hardship, they have access to our Helping Hands Fund, which provides financial grants to support associates’ emergency needs. We also offer DailyPay, which allows our associates to access their earned wages sooner.”

UFCW Local 75 ratified a new contract last May that will boost hourly wages for 20,000 Kroger employees above $20 by the time the five-year contract ends, said Garvey, the union's president since 2016. He also pointed to major differences between Kroger's local workforce and those out west.

"The cost of living where the survey was conducted is significantly higher than the midwest," Garvey said. "Fifty percent of the clerks in the Cincinnati-Dayton market are full-time. Fifty four percent work over 40 hours a week. The other half are students or part-time by choice."

Kroger earned a $2.6 billion profit in 2020 and it’s up more than $1 billion through three quarters of 2021. CEO Rodney McMullen got a 45% raise last year to $20.6 million. This year, the used some of its profits to buy back $1 billion of its own shares, a practice that helps investors by increasing earnings per share and helps executives by making more shares available for incentive plans.

As WCPO previously reported, the company has been criticized for not sharing more of its profits with employees, who were exposed to COVID-19 throughout the pandemic and often bore the brunt of customers irritated by supply shortages and mask mandates.

“These folks who’ve been keeping the stores open, giving us food during the pandemic, go home and eat Ramen and hot dogs and skip meals sometimes, are even hungry sometimes,” Flaming said.

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