Supermarket workers face food shortages due to low wages

A recently published study revealed that 78% of Kroger company workers face food insecurity. Despite the fact that the workers are surrounded by food, the vast majority revealed that they have run out of food in their homes before the end of the month, they have skipped meals and have sometimes gone hungry.

The independent investigative report, Hungry at the Table, looked at the working and living conditions of more than 36,000 Kroger workers in California, Colorado and Washington.

Some workers said this is due in part to low wages, long hours of unpaid work, and lack of access for them to shop at the same supermarket where they work, among many other problems.

Mrs. Queti, 62, has worked at a Ralphs store for the past five years. She said that her salary is $15.30 per hour, and despite the fact that she often works more than 40 hours per week, she is not considered a full-time worker because then she only gets 16 or even 4 hours per week.

“I live alone and it is very hard for me because I pay $1,000 for rent and sometimes it is not enough. I used to have two jobs, but now I can't because I got hurt [trabajando], and because of the hours they give me,” said Queti, who asked not to reveal his true identity for fear of reprisals.

He said that sometimes when he does not bring lunch to work he has bought food in the supermarket, but they have charged him a higher price than usual and they do not respect his word when he tries to correct the cashiers.

"If a customer comes and says that he saw the product at a lower price, they lower the price, but if you tell them they don't listen to me or sometimes they don't even give me the change," said Queti. “Besides, we have to line up just like the others, they don't take into consideration that we are in a break [descanso]”.

Kroger is the company that oversees supermarkets such as City Market, Food Company, Food 4 Less, Fred Myers, Ralphs, King Soopers, Quality Food Centers, and Smiths.

The study added that 44% of workers do not have enough to pay rent and 14% do not currently have a home or have not had one in the last year.

Kenneth Juárez, 44, is one of the Kroger workers who was forced to leave his place in the San Gabriel Valley due to extreme rent prices.

“In 2008 with the recession I found an affordable property in Hesperia [en el condado de San Bernardino] and it seemed like a good idea to drive every day, but now with gas prices so high, it's not worth it,” said Juárez, an employee who now works in Pasadena.

Juárez, who has worked with the company for 26 years, said many years ago cashier jobs were considered middle class and supermarkets used to have better benefits. That was one of the reasons he decided to stay on the job.

However, over the years the job has become demanding and stressful with a lack of workforce. The hourly payment is considered very low because it is not in line with the cost of living; He also feels that the company has no empathy for its workers.

Covid made the situation worse

The report indicates that significant challenges also came with the arrival of the covid-19 pandemic. Although supermarket workers were considered essential, more than two-thirds reported customer problems and abuse.

A quarter of employees said they were confronted by customers who threatened violence. Additionally, they confirmed that they received no support from management on most of these issues. 31% reported retaliation from managers if they raised customer and other issues.

Despite the fact that at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, supermarket workers received a $2 salary increase for being considered "heroes", this only lasted two months, reported Bloomberg. However, by the end of 2020, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen received a $22.4 million bonus package.

The workers assured that in some supermarkets there were no basic supplies such as gloves, masks or disinfectant.

“I have all my vaccines, but we don't have the necessary protection at hand and we live in fear every day,” said Queti.

For her good luck, she assured that she has not been infected with covid-19.

Workers indicated that Kroger limits two-thirds of its workers to no more than part-time.

Frequent schedule changes for more than 50% of workers further jeopardize their search for another part-time job, as has happened to Queti.

“For example, if I arrive at 10 in the morning they tell me, 'come back at 2 in the afternoon so you can replace another employee who doesn't come,' and they spoil my day,” she explained.

Queti assured that the only reason why he continues in the same job is because he is about to retire and does not have the strength to start from scratch in a new job.

La Opinion tried to get a comment from the Kroger company, but at press time there was no response.

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Nathan Rivera
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