Kroger Employee Dies on the Job During Record-Breaking Heat Wave

Labor union says extremely hot working temperatures contributed to death
Marian Zboraj
Digital Editor
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Leaders from Teamsters Union #667 said that Tony Rufus died on a dock in front of his co-workers.

A Kroger employee at the company’s distribution center in Memphis died on Aug. 25 while working amid a record-breaking heat wave.

Leaders from Teamsters 667, the local labor union, said Tony Rufus was trying to cool off in the produce section after becoming overheated. The union’s chief Maurice Wiggins told Fox 13 that Rufus was dripping with sweat. Wiggins said Rufus died in the produce section on a dock in front of his co-workers. Rufus worked in the salvage department, a part of the facility that did not have air conditioning.

His death comes after his union had been asking the company for more breaks, cooler temperatures and drinks other than just water. The union explained that workers get a 30-minute lunch break and 15-minute breaks every two hours. Leaders stressed that during extremely hot weather, they need more.

[Read more: “Trader Joe’s Takes Legal Action Against Union”]

A Kroger spokesperson provided the following statement to Progressive Grocer: “We were saddened by the tragic death in one of our Memphis Distribution centers, and our hearts are with the associate’s family. We are continuing to work to understand more about the incident.”

The investigation into Rufus’s death continues, according to the Memphis police department.

Memphis set a record high temperature for Aug. 25. Thermometers at the Memphis International Airport hit 102 degrees in the afternoon.The previous high for the day was 101, according to Fox 13. The brutal heat wave even caused schools to push back kickoff times for Friday night football games, waiting until the heat index was cool enough for players to safely take the field. 

Nearly half a million Krogerassociates serve over 11 million customers daily through a digital shopping experience and retail food stores under a variety of banner names, Cincinnati-based Kroger is No. 4 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. PG also named the company to its Retailers of the Century list.

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