Kroger CEO Cut Workers’ COVID-19 Hazard Pay, Grabbed Record $22.4 Million Package Himself

Kroger grocery company CEO Rodney McMullen cut COVID-19 hazard pay for food workers last year just months into the pandemic — then scooped up a record $22.4 million in compensation for himself, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

McMullen’s pay package was revealed Thursday in a regulatory filing. His compensation rose almost 6% from the prior year, padded by a bigger bonus, a salary hike and stock awards, Bloomberg noted. That was McMullen’s biggest take ever since he became CEO in 2013. 

Median pay for Kroger’s workers fell 8%, to an annual $24,600. Kroger’s full-time workers, however, did get a bonus a year ago: $300. The Cincinnati-based company, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, employs about 465,000 people.

McMullen early last year proudly announced a $2 hourly hazard increase — which he termed a “Hero Bonus” — for store and warehouse employees who continued to work as they risked contracting the coronavirus.

But the bonus was cut in May 2020, even as COVID-19 surged, sparking a storm of controversy. “The hazard pay is disappearing. The hazard is not,” Bloomberg noted at the time. 

“How do you go from a hero to zero when there’s still a pandemic out there?” asked one worker.

“Kroger continues to reward and recognize our associates for their incredible work during this historic time,” a spokesperson told Bloomberg in an emailed statement in response to the company’s extremely top-heavy reward system. The spokesperson noted that the company is also offering $100 to everyone who gets a COVID-19 vaccine.

Things haven’t been tough all over during the COVID-19 pandemic ― for CEOs and the ultra rich. Billionaires got 54% richer last year. That’s a $4 trillion boost for the world’s 2,365 billionaires.

Median pay for CEOs at more than 300 of the nation’s largest public companies zoomed to $13.7 million last year, up from $12.8 million a year earlier, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis last month. The median CEO pay increase was nearly 15%, the analysis found.

Kroger raked in record revenue last year as people largely stopped eating out and boosted their grocery shopping. But CEOs running companies that hemorrhaged money also did well. Even though Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings lost $4 billion last year, for example, CEO Frank Del Rio’s pay doubled to $36.4 million, the Journal reported.

CEOs of 350 large publicly traded companies in 2019 earned an average 320 times more than the typical worker in the same company, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In 1989, the average ratio was 61-to-1.

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