DENVER (KDVR) — Another King Soopers employee, in Colorado, has died from COVID-19 complications, according to a union rep with United Food and Commercial Workers #7.
75-year-old James McKay worked at the Capitol Hills King Soopers, at 1155 E 9th Ave, in Denver.
On Sunday, prayers and kind words came pouring in—as many people learned of McKay’s passing from a Facebook post.
“To know about someone for that many years and hear about something like that happen—it’s really kind of shook me up,” Leonard Jackson told Fox31, during a phone interview Sunday night.
Jackson worked alongside McKay for over a decade at the Capitol Hill King Soopers.
“He just seems happy all the time. Sometimes I’d go to work and be having one of those days. Then me and him would get to laughing and talking, and you’d just kind of forget about your problems,” Jackson recalled.
Their friendship started long before that, though.
“James and I went to high school together and we got to be real good friends.”
Leonard says life took them in different directions after high school—and says, by chance, they were reunited decades later at King Soopers.
“I hadn’t seen him since high school,” Jackson recalled. “To see somebody and work with them for a few hours. And all of a sudden, he said ‘don’t you remember me?’ And I said, ‘not really.’ And he told me what his name was and we just started laughing. It was a lot of old memories.”
He describes the 75-year-old as a loving father and grandfather.
“Every time my little grandson would come to King Soopers, James would give him a penny to ride the little horse that they had there.”
Jackson left his post at King Soopers back in November, and says the timing was lucky for him.
“That virus is no joke,” he told Fox31.
“I knew the other guy that passed away from working there too—Randy. They were real good friends, too,” he added.”
Randy Narvaez, who worked at the same store, died from COVID-19 earlier this month.
“These workers have constant contact with customers. It’s very risky for them,” said UFCW #7 President Kim Cordova. “You’re seeing the number of COVID-19 increase in these stores. And we’re starting to lose workers.”
According to UFCW, 70 King Soopers and Kroger employees—in Colorado—have tested positive for COVID-19.
So far, three of them have passed away.
“They don’t have the highest quality of personal protective equipment,” said Cordova. “And now the company is allowing more customers in their stores. So the risk is even greater than what it was prior to them taking away the hero bonus.”
Workers were temporarily receiving hero pay, which was a $2/hour raise, but that expired on May 23rd.
A spokesperson for King Soopers released this statement Sunday night:
“The cumulative effect of King Soopers’ safety efforts have contributed to our case rate being below that of the surrounding communities where we operate, and significantly below the state case rate. That doesn’t mean there aren’t hotspots; this is a pandemic and there are areas of the state where we have individual locations with higher rates of illness. In those areas, we’re responding with additional safety measures, including associate testing.
Our stores are coordinating closely with local health departments when we learn of positive COVID-19 cases in our employee base and taking immediate action to support and safeguard our associates and customers. We are acutely aware and responding to the safety needs of our associates across our family of companies.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, King Soopers has taken extensive measures to safeguard our associates, customers and supply chain, ensuring local communities always have access to fresh, affordable food. Below are the measures we are implementing and continually updating to protect the safety of our associates, customers and our communities:
Providing gloves and face coverings for every associate, every shift
Plexiglass shields installed at checkout stands
Educational floor decals to ensure physical distancing
Handwashing and cleaning high-touch areas every 30 minutes
Limiting store capacity to 50% of normal (1 person for every 120 square feet of store space)
Increased store sanitation processes when restocking
Mandatory temperature and symptom checks for associates prior to starting their shifts
Communication with all employees to review, confirm and reinforce safety and social distancing best practices
We didn’t just lose an associate, we lost a member of our King Soopers family. The associate who worked at the Capitol Hill store in Denver had been previously diagnosed with COVID-19 in April and on leave since early March. We are deeply saddened by this loss and we, along with their family are mourning this loss deeply. We are in communication with our associates that have tested positive to assist in their needs. Our thoughts are with them as they recover, and we wish them well. We have made mental health and grief counselors available to support our associates.
Through regular communication with County Health Departments, we’ve affirmed that our processes continue to live up to our high safety standards in protecting our more than 27,000 associates and the millions of customers that visit our 152 stores each week.
Thank You Pay:
Our most urgent priority throughout this pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers while meeting our societal obligation to also provide open stores, ecommerce solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain so that our communities have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials.
Since mid-March, King Soopers, along with our parent company, The Kroger Co, have invested $700 million to reward our associates and safeguard associates, customers and our communities. On May 15 we announced a special Thank You Pay for hourly frontline associates — $400 for qualified full-time associates and $200 for qualified part-time associates, totaling an additional $130 million — to acknowledge their dedication to maintaining safe, clean and stocked stores. The new Thank You Pay bookends an Appreciation Pay first provided to frontline associates for their efforts at the start of the pandemic in March. It also follows multiple Hero Bonuses that were paid in April through mid-May, with associates receiving their final payment by May 23.
In addition to these investments, we have recently provided new career opportunities to more than 6,000 workers, including those from the hardest-hit sectors like restaurants, hotels and food service distributors, to support our retail, ecommerce, manufacturing and logistics operations.”