Kroger workers allege massive wage theft: “I’m tired of having to beg"
In 2022, Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the country, launched "MyTime" — a new payroll system that Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen claimed would “simplify day-to-day work.” Kroger touted MyTime as a testament to how much the grocery store chain cares about its associates. But since its roll-out, MyTime has been a nightmare for thousands of Kroger employees across the country. Glitches with MyTime have resulted in a host of problems, including missing pay and incomplete checks.
The fallout has been especially brutal for workers who live paycheck to paycheck. Multiple Kroger associates told Popular Information that they’ve missed rent payments and bills, overdrawn their bank accounts, or been forced to take out loans due to missing or reduced pay. Kroger’s slow response to resolving the issues with MyTime has only exacerbated the crisis. “I’m tired of having to beg for pay that’s due to me,” one Kroger employee told Popular Information. All the workers who spoke to Popular Information did so on the condition of anonymity due to concerns that speaking out would impact their current or future employment.
On January 19, a group of Kroger associates from Virginia and West Virginia filed a lawsuit against the grocery store arguing that “their employer has engaged in a widespread wage theft resulting from repeated and ongoing problems with payroll.”
The lawsuit asserts that workers have had to deal with missing or late paychecks, paychecks for amounts less than are they owed, and unauthorized and/or incorrect deductions or withholdings. One plaintiff in the case did not receive any pay for the five weeks they worked at Kroger, leaving her no option but to resign. Another plaintiff had their copay for spousal insurance deducted twice for seven weeks, meaning they were taking home less than they were owed. In both cases, Kroger was made “aware of these issues,” but thus far “has failed to correct them.”
Many of these plaintiffs are members of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400. The union, which represents workers in the Mid-Atlantic region, claims it has received more than 1,000 reports from members who say they are having issues with MyTime.
For months, the union has raised concerns about MyTime. In December, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The lawsuit filed this month, the union says, “represents an escalation in efforts to address the crisis facing Local 400’s members.”
“This is wage theft, plain and simple,” UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici said.
The problems at Kroger extend far beyond Virginia and West Virginia. Kroger workers across the country are filing lawsuits against Kroger accusing the grocery giant of wage theft. Kroger did not respond to a request for comment.
Lawsuits are being filed against Kroger from coast-to-coast
In December, a bakery worker at Kroger-owned Fred Meyer, filed a class-action complaint in Washington state court over “late or missed checks,” “canceled direct deposits,” and “incorrect hours recorded,” among other issues.
On November 17, workers at two different Fred Meyer locations in Oregon, Samantha Woody and Nicole Urvina, filed a class action lawsuit accusing the grocery store of failing to pay wages and unauthorized deductions. Fred Meyer “did not conduct adequate planning and testing” before rolling out MyTime in September 2022, the suit alleges.
“Fred Meyer knew, or should have known, in advance of activating the new payroll system that it would cause widespread pay errors,” the suit claims. “Given the magnitude of the system change and examples of pay problems from other companies that have made similar system changes, the errors with the new payroll system could have been predicted.”
That same day, another Kroger worker filed a proposed class action against the grocery store in Ohio. The Kroger delivery driver and warehouse worker, claims the company’s payroll system went down between September and November. According to the complaint, employees “have either not been paid at all for weeks of work or were eventually paid, weeks after their scheduled payday."
Kroger claims it has resolved most issues, shifts blame to workers
These four lawsuits likely only capture a fraction of the payroll issues that Kroger workers face. As the nation’s largest supermarket chain, Kroger operates more than 2,800 stores across 35 states and employs almost half a million associates who use MyTime. The company acknowledges the payroll issues with MyTime but claims to have resolved most of them.
“We have apologized to our associates and understand the impact,” a Kroger spokesperson told Winsight Grocery Business in mid-December. “We have resolved the vast majority of issues and are ensuring our associates are paid timely and accurately.” Kroger also claimed to have “acted in good faith” and blamed employees for failing “to pursue grievances, arbitration and other remedies before suing,” WCPO 9 reports.
But at the end of last year, UFCW President Marc Perrone said the union was still hearing from local unions that thousands across the country have not received their most recent paycheck, “despite repeated assurances from Kroger that the majority of issues have been resolved.” In Cincinnati, where Kroger is based, one union says it has been receiving about 40 complaints a week since the end of last year. Kroger previously said that it was “not aware” of any issues in Cincinnati.
Then, earlier this month, Kroger admitted that it was still having issues with MyTime. In a court filing from January 9, Tricia Halpin, a division assistant HR leader for Fred Meyers wrote: “To this date, Fred Meyer continues to receive new reports and complaints from Washington employees regarding their pay on an almost daily basis.” While Halpin’s statement is mostly about Kroger workers in Washington, she suggests that “a large majority of, and potentially all, employees who received a paycheck under the new payroll system have been affected to some degree.”
The economic plight of Kroger workers
Kroger, a multi-billion dollar company, is allegedly shortchanging its workers — a low-wage and vulnerable population. A 2022 study found that about 75% of surveyed Kroger workers across three regions said they were food insecure, and about 14% were homeless or had been homeless in the previous year.
One worker, for instance, told Popular Information that they were evicted after not receiving a paycheck for several weeks. Another employee shared that they are loaning out some of their own money to help new hires who are missing paychecks and do not have enough money for gas. Many more cited the stress of wondering if, and when, their check will appear. Others are “forced to work second jobs, or take on high-interest and risky payday loans in order to meet daily expenses.”
Kroger, in contrast, recorded $113 billion in sales in the first three quarters of 2022, nearly an 8% increase from the same period last year. In 2021, CEO McMullen received $18.2 million in compensation — 679 times more than the median Kroger employee. The company is also gearing up to acquire Albertsons — a merger that would give the company “control of nearly one-fifth of the US grocery market.” Critics say that this move could result in price hikes, more food deserts, and mass layoffs.
A $50 billion problem
Unfortunately, the experience of Kroger workers is not atypical. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that more than $50 billion in wages are stolen from workers per year. The amount of money stolen from workers by their employers exceeds the value of stolen goods in all property crimes combined, according to the latest FBI statistics.
Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh says the federal government needs to do more to protect workers from wage theft, and has asked for resources to "to educate workers about their rights and hire more investigators to handle claims."
Most victims never report wage theft, let alone sue. The few that do submit a claim have to wait months, or even years, for their case to be decided. A new CBS News Investigation found employers often continue to stiff workers who do win their cases. According to CBS News, "more than a third of those successful cases — totaling nearly a billion dollars — showed no money was ever recovered.”