Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) walk through the U.S. Capitol on September 22, 2022.

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Progressive Senators Demand Answers From Kroger on 'Widespread Wage Theft'

"Even as your company was failing to address concerns about systemic wage theft, you have been pushing through a $24.6 billion merger with Albertsons Companies, Inc. that further threatens workers' wages and jobs."

A trio of progressive U.S. senators on Wednesday pressed the CEO of Kroger to answer longtime worker allegations of rampant wage theft, accusations that continue as the supermarket giant pursues a contentious megamerger with erstwhile competitor Albertsons.

"We are writing today regarding alarming new reports of Kroger's involvement in the mistreatment of workers and consumers through widespread and unresolved wage theft," Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote in a letter to Kroger Company chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen. "These reports indicate that 'systemic and widespread errors' by Kroger resulted in thousands of your employees experiencing delays and missing wages in their paychecks in late 2022."

Warren explained on Twitter that "Kroger stiffed its own workers while pushing a merger deal with Albertsons that could harm both consumers and workers," and that the senators "are calling them out for lining their pockets at the expense of their employees."

Kroger workers say a big part of the problem is MyTime, a new payroll system rolled out last year that McMullen claimed would "simplify day-to-day work" but instead has resulted in problems including missing pay and incomplete checks.

"I'm tired of having to beg for pay that's due to me," one Kroger employee toldPopular Information last month.

In January, hundreds of Kroger employees, most of them members of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 Union, filed a class-action lawsuit alleging widespread wage theft.

The senators' letter states that "given your company's record of anti-worker policies, and your ongoing attempt to push through a merger that would harm both consumers and workers, we are writing to request a full explanation of how your workers will be compensated for any lost or delayed wages, and how you will prevent future wage theft."

The lawmakers asked McMullen to answer questions including:

  • How many missing or incorrect paychecks were reported to the company in 2022, and how many of these reports were related to the MyTime system?
  • What was the total amount of wages owed to workers that Kroger failed to pay in 2022?
  • How much back pay has Kroger issued to date for missing or incorrect paychecks in 2022?
  • Is Kroger continuing to use the MyTime payroll system, despite significant accuracy issues, and if so, what steps has the company put in place to prevent further wage theft?
  • Have any company executives had pay, bonuses, or other compensation withheld or clawed back as a result of the systemic problems affecting workers' pay in 2022?
  • Will you commit to fully redressing all workers affected by missing or late pay prior to taking any additional steps to move forward with the Albertsons merger?

Warren, Sanders, and Wyden are among the many progressive and labor voices urging the federal government to reject Kroger's proposed merger with Albertsons. Together, the two supermarkets and their subsidiaries employ more than 710,000 workers at around 5,000 stores in 48 states and Washington, D.C. and rake in $208 billion in annual revenue, second only to Walmart.

In a bid to fend off antitrust challenges to the proposed merger, Kroger and Albertsons announced earlier this week that they would sell off as many as 300 stores, mostly in areas where the two chains overlap, GlobeStreported.

"Even as your company was failing to address concerns about systemic wage theft, you have been pushing through a $24.6 billion merger with Albertsons Companies, Inc. that further threatens workers' wages and jobs and hurts consumers by reducing competition among grocers," the lawmakers' letter asserts. "This merger would exacerbate corporate consolidation in the grocery sector, and likely result in the shuttering of some stores across the country and the firing of workers from both Kroger and Albertsons."

A Kroger spokesperson told Common Dreams via email that"while the majority of issues have been resolved, we understand these issues have caused undue difficulty for the impacted associates," and that"we are taking multiple steps to pay our associates as quickly as possible, including overnighting checks to impacted associates."

According to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, more than $3 billion in stolen wages were recovered for U.S. workers between 2017 and 2020—a fraction of the $50 billion EPI says is stolen by employers each year. By contrast, the FBI said the total value of all 267,988 reported U.S. robberies in 2019 was around $482 million.

The lawmakers' letter came as Communications Workers of America and the National Employment Law Project published a study in which 9 in 10 surveyed workers at independent authorized retailers of telecom titans AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon in 43 states said they've experienced wage theft.

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