By COLIN STAUB
Kroger is planning to buy competitor Albertsons for $24.6 billion. But the grocery monolith can’t seem to find the cash to pay its workers.
Since September, workers at Kroger subsidiary Fred Meyer have reported discrepancies in the hours they work, versus the hours they’re paid for. Now the complaints have reached the courtroom. On Nov. 17, attorney Richard Myers of Bennett Hartman filed a class-action lawsuit against Fred Meyer on behalf of two workers. Filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, the lawsuit explains that Fred Meyer began using a new payroll software system in September. Since then, workers have had missing or late paychecks, been paid incorrect wages, had their hours incorrectly recorded, had incorrect deductions from their paychecks, seen direct deposits get canceled, and more.
Those workers include plaintiffs Samantha Woody, who worked in e-commerce at Fred Meyer’s Raleigh Hills location until the end of October, and Nicole Urvina, a current employee in the meat department at the Medford store.
The problems went on long enough that some workers went weeks without being paid, according to the lawsuit.
Fred Meyer’s immediate solution was to issue prepaid debit cards to workers who were most underpaid by the payroll errors. But according to the lawsuit, even those debit cards were full of problems. Some didn’t have the full amount of what the worker was owed.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555—which represents Fred Meyer grocery and retail employees—criticized the troubled debit card “fix.” In a Nov. 17 statement, the union described Fred Meyer paying one worker with a $500 prepaid card, to fix a paycheck error. But the worker soon discovered the card only had $250 prepaid.
“Even when trying to fix their outrageous mistakes with band-aid remedies, they mess up,” Local 555 spokesperson Miles Eshaia said in the statement.
The class-action lawsuit seeks to recover all lost wages and to compel Fred Meyer to pay 9% interest on the unpaid wages. For workers who left the job and still haven’t been paid for time worked, the lawsuit seeks back wages, interest and penalty wages equivalent to 30 days of work at eight hours per day. The lawsuit also asks that Fred Meyer be ordered to pay either $200 per instance of improperly withheld wages, or actual damages arising from that withholding. (Many workers have had to get payday loans because of Fred Meyer’s unpaid wages, plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit).
Fred Meyer management confirmed to The Oregonian that the payroll system caused problems, saying that it affected about 1% of its 40,000 workers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
Locally, the payroll problems have impacted workers represented by UFCW Local 555, BCTGM Local 114 and Teamsters Local 206.