Kroger, the national grocery store giant, has really distinguished itself during the COVID-19 pandemic, if not always in ways it might want shoppers to think of. Early on in the outbreak, Judd Legum's Popular Information newsletter highlighted the company's sick leave policy that actually encouraged employees to work while ill. That created enough bad publicity that the chain eventually expanded its leave policy to allow two weeks' paid leave if employees had symptoms or needed to self-isolate. It still wasn't a real paid sick leave policy, since it will only last during the national state of emergency, after which the old, crappier policy will return.

Last week, the chain announced it would be ending the temporary $2 an hour "hero bonus" it had started paying store workers at the end of March. The company had to be shamed into providing that hazard pay after other stores had adopted the policy, but apparently Kroger figures the pandemic is over, since clearly nobody's wearing masks anymore. Weirdly, Kroger is still running this ad thanking its "associates" for feeding America and being brave; it actually played on the Spotify while I was typing up this story.

Thank You Associates For Keeping America Fed | The Kroger Co.

Here's the latest development in the Story Of How Kroger Sucks And I'm Not Shopping There No More Except For In Idaho It's "Fred Meyer": Judd Legum, at it again, reports (in a subscribers-only joint) that Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen and other top executives got their very own hero bonuses, to the tune of many millions of dollars. Not because they're out on the front lines risking infection by idiots who think viruses aren't real, but because they've done so well at bringing in big money for the company.

As if the chain's weirdass CGI Fisher-Price looking ads weren't off-putting enough.

Legum notes that while the temporary boost to workers' wages is set to end on Sunday, Kroger workers are still inconveniently dying. In Michigan, a 60-year-old cashier, James Andres, died May 10 after a month-long hospitalization with COVID-19, as reported in the Detroit Free Press Monday. His family remembered his generosity and "lavish dessert tables" at holiday parties. His sister, Josephine "Josie" Hafeli, said, "He spoiled everybody like crazy." The story mentions Andres had a dog, a West Highland White Terrier, named Seymour Butz, who's now being cared for by Hafeli. Andres had only started working at Kroger in March, but then he contracted the virus.

Legum points out that Andres was "at least the fifth Kroger employee in Michigan to die from COVID-19."

And then on Tuesday, Kroger confirmed the COVID-19 death of a manager at a store in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with the expected "We were deeply saddened" and "we are continuing to take steps to support and safeguard our associates and customers" statement from the company.

On t'other hand, the executive team is making out like bandits, and why shouldn't they, this is America after all. Legum dived into SEC reports and found a proxy statement for shareholders, showing that McMullen's total compensation for 2019 was $21,129,648, with much of it awarded in March 2020 in the form of a bonus.

Other top executives also had huge paydays. Chief Operating Officer Michael Donnelly was paid $10,329,684, nearly doubling his compensation from 2018. J. Michael Schlotman, who retired in April 2019 as Chief Financial Officer, was paid $8,467,423. Schlotman's replacement, Gary Millerchip, was paid $4,142,280.

Here, have a chart from the proxy report!

We almost felt a little bad for the dude who merely got $2,529,884, until we realized that was just part of a breakdown of his total compensation of over $4.6 million. Whew, he'll get by, we guess.

Legum also notes that it's downright expensive to keep track of just how much Kroger execs get paid:

The compensation packages for McMullen and other top executives are so elaborate that the company paid an outside consultant $523,769 "to advise the Compensation Committee in the design of Kroger's executive compensation" last year.

That's kind of mean, though. Who among us doesn't have to pay someone half a million dollars to tell us how much we should pay ourselves?

Always promoting class warfare, Legum also points out that the median pay for Kroger grocery workers in 2019 was $26,790. What's more,

Kroger was required to disclose that "the ratio of our CEO's annual total compensation to that of our median employee for fiscal 2019 was 789 to 1." In 2018, the ratio was 483 to 1.

So what makes Rodney McMullen worth nearly 800 times as much as the frontline heroes out there getting coughed on by MAGA idiots who won't wear masks, for liberty? It's all about generating "free cash flow" for the company and the shareholders. There's also a metric for executive compensation that considers improvements in customer and employee satisfaction; McMullen didn't actually oversee any gains there, but it only counted for a little bit of his bonus. But wait! There's more! Kroger will be eliminating the customer and employee metrics for next year, and that means

Half of McMullen's 2020 bonus will be tied to him creating a total of $6.5 billion in free cash flow from 2018 to 2020.

So by cutting pay for hundreds of thousands of Kroger employees now, McMullen creates more free cash flow for the company. That gives McMullen, and the other top executives, a better chance of receiving the maximum possible bonus.

Gee, that sure sounds a lot like one of those perverse incentives all right, not unlike the sick-leave policy that got Kroger into the Look How Terrible Corporations Are In This Crisis headlines in the first place. On the other hand, what do you want, a socialist dictatorship where no one has food to eat?

[Popular Information (subscriber-only article) / Popular Information (general access)]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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