A survey of nearly 37,000 workers at Kroger Company — the largest supermarket chain in the U.S. and second-largest grocer, behind only Walmart — finds that many are worried that they aren’t making enough money to live.
Nearly two-thirds of workers surveyed by Economic Roundtable, a Los Angeles-based research nonprofit, say that their job doesn’t pay them enough to afford basic costs of living, like food and housing.
More than 40% of Kroger workers say they’re unable to pay for rent; 14% say that they are homeless now or have been homeless within the last year; and 39% of workers say that they are unable to pay for their own groceries.
Workers in the four regions surveyed by Economic Roundtable average an annual salary of $29,655—roughly $16,000 less than a $45,760 effective living wage for those regions.
“The workers have gotten small annual increases, but those have been less than inflation. In real dollars, they’ve lost ground,” Daniel Flaming, president of the Economic Roundtable, told Spectrum News.
In a statement, Kroger said that it has “balanced significant wage investments for our associates while keeping food affordable for the communities we serve.”
The company said that, across the country, it has increased wages by 22% since 2017, and that Southern California workers average more than $18 per hour.
“Kroger has provided an incredible number of people with their first job, and we’re proud to play this role in our communities,” the company said.
The survey, and an analysis of its results, was published on Jan. 11. It was underwritten by Locals 7, 770, 324 and 21 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and comes approaching a climactic time in labor negotiations for Kroger and its workers.
Members of UFCW Local 7 — which was among the locals that underwrote the Economic Roundtable report — have planned a strike on Denver and Boulder, Colo., King Soopers stores from Jan. 12 until Feb. 2, in response to alleged unfair labor practices. UFCW Local 7 represents about 17,000 King Soopers workers.
“King Soopers is enjoying record profits while leaving its workers to struggle with low wages. Grocery workers ensure that our communities have access to food, but they cannot even afford to feed their own families,” UFCW Local 7 President Kim Cordova said in a statement released Jan. 7.
Local 7 has also filed a lawsuit against King Soopers for using third-party staffing services to perform work reserved for bargaining unit workers in violation of their contract.
In its own statement, Kroger suggested that UFCW Local 7’s strike would cause its community to face “uncertainty and disruption.”
"At King Soopers, we want what is right for our associates, and that is more money in their paychecks while continuing to receive industry-leading healthcare benefits," said Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers/City Market.
The bargaining agreement between Kroger subsidiary Ralphs and UFCW Local 770, representing workers across Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, is due to expire on March 6, as is Ralphs' contract with UFCW 324, representing Orange County Ralphs workers. The contract between UFCW 21 workers and Kroger subsidiary QFC, in Washington, expires in May.
In early 2021, Kroger faced criticism after announcing the closure of stores in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., not long after those cities announced mandatory hazard pay increases for grocery and pharmacy retailers.
Those stores, the company said, were “underperforming.”
In December, Kroger reported $31.9 billion in revenues during the third quarter of fiscal year 2021, with $868 million in operating profits.
Flaming argues that Kroger’s business model is simply broken.
“You and I are going to the grocery store and putting our money into their registers, and after we leave, those employees have to be subsidized with tax dollars…while the profit they receive is going to institutional investors,” Flaming said. “We have to have grocery stores, we have to have food, and we need a model that works better than this…we need to consider our public balance sheets and how we have a sustainable community.”