Worker who died at Kroger distribution center identified; employees claim it was heat-related

Published: Aug. 26, 2023 at 4:06 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 28, 2023 at 10:47 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Employees say Tony Rufus died at a Kroger distribution center on Bledsoe Road in Memphis this weekend.

Memphis Police Department is investigating and has not revealed a cause of death at this time.

Officers were called to the distribution center just after 8 p.m. on Friday where they found Rufus unresponsive. He was later pronounced dead.

A representative for Kroger released the following statement:

A co-worker says Rufus was sweating profusely and asking for water before his death.

“The man was sweating profusely and he wanted some water. The next thing ya know he had a heart attack or something like that,” the unnamed employee said.

Employees inside the warehouse say there is no air conditioning.

But Local Teamsters 667 Union Chief Maurice Williams says it didn’t have to.

He says the union has asked Kroger management for accommodations, like longer breaks and popsicles, for years.

“And we always get denied,” Wiggins said. “We just had a labor board meeting not even a month ago and asked them for things that could’ve prevented this man’s death. And the company did deny the union.”

WIggins says Kroger does have hydration stations inside their warehouse, but the production-based payscale makes it hard for the workers to find time to get a cup of water.

The company also has large, industrial fans, but Wiggins says they offer little to no relief.

“We asked for cool down breaks. We work in a place where there ain’t no air condition blowing. It’s just fans. So you’re working in a tin can with all fans blowing.”

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