‘Never have I ever seen anything like this’: Kroger employees on front lines of pandemic

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — They’re not firefighters or police officers, but Kroger wants its employees to be recognized as first responders during this pandemic in order to secure access to protective gear.

“Everybody’s gotta eat, and where ya going?” asked Mary Swanson, “The grocery store… And we’re right there front and center.”

Swanson’s worked at Kroger in Nashville for 16 years.

“Never, in all of those 16 years and all of my life living, never, have I ever seen anything like this before,” she told News 2.

It started about a week into March, the COVID-19 pandemic panic emptied shelves in stores across the country.

“A normal day it’s like I would say, at my particular register, I may handle about 2 to 300 people versus now it may be 500 people that day within my 8 hours,” Swanson explained, “The first week of the pandemic or whatever, we had 18 lanes open and each lane had about 50-60 people.”

“I’m very tired,” she expressed, “We are working, you know, just hand over foot.”

Kroger and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union are now asking the government to recognize grocery store employees as first responders. This would ensure they have access to protective gear, after healthcare workers, should they run out.

A spokesperson for Kroger in Nashville said they have protective gear for employees right now, but it’s optional.

“The glass barriers that they had put up before in front of the check lanes,” Swanson said, “I get people to stand back behind the glass petitions, but now we can’t hear each other so they usually end up stepping around the glass petition, so, that bothers me just a little bit, but ya know, but it’s not just major major like, ‘Oh my God!'”

Kroger also created the ‘Hero Bonus’ for all front line grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy, and call center employees. This added $2 dollars to their hourly wage from March 29th to April 18th. The bonus is now extended through May 2nd.

“When they come in they know me by name,” Swanson added, “It gives ya a good feeling, it makes ya feel good, you know I’m helping this person.”

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