CINCINNATI - Kroger is encouraging its workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 but is non-committal about requiring the shots once they are widely available.
“At this time, we’re strongly encouraging our shoppers and associates to get vaccinated,” Tim Massa, Kroger’s senior vice president of human resources and labor relations, told The Enquirer.
According to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer, when pressed if Cincinnati-based Kroger was considering mandating vaccination in the future, Massa repeated his previous answer.
The nation’s largest supermarket chain, Kroger’s nearly 2,800 stores nationwide serve more than 11 million customers a day.
Company officials didn’t say how they would reassure customers who might be worried store associates weren’t required to vaccinated.
Roughly 6,000 Kroger associates who work the grocer’s pharmacies and health clinics have been vaccinated. So far Kroger workers in Alaska, Arkansas, California, Texas and West Virginia have gotten the shots – but none yet in Cincinnati.
The union representing Kroger’s associates, the United Food & Commercial Workers International, has pressed federal officials to make the vaccine available to its membership as soon as possible. It hasn’t commented on whether vaccination should be mandated for workers.
At least 109 union grocery workers have died of COVID-19 and more than 17,400 have been infected, sickened or exposed to the new coronavirus as of December, the UFCW said.
“Protecting our country’s food workers is essential to keeping our communities safe and stopping future outbreaks in these high-exposure workplaces,” said union president Marc Perrone last month.
Kroger’s comments come as vaccination efforts are slowly grinding ahead. Of 29.4 million doses distributed, about 5.9 million have been administered as of last week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most of those getting the first vaccinations so far are healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Last month, Kroger said it was preparing to help local and state officials provide coronavirus vaccines nationwide through its pharmacy and clinic locations. But it added the timing of providing vaccinations will depend on when health officials say.
Besides Kroger stores, the grocer operates several regional supermarket chains in 35 states, including Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Mariano’s, Fry’s, Smith’s, King Soopers, QFC and others. The company has nearly 2,800 stores and employs nearly 500,000 workers.
Last month, the federal government said private employers will have the right to require COVID-19 vaccination of their workers. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its guidance addressing how to navigate the pandemic while adhering to labor laws.