Retail Workers Demand Hazard Pay As Large Companies Reap Record-Breaking Pandemic Profits

by on November 25, 2020 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Health, San Diego

As large corporations like Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger and other major retailers reap record-breaking profits during the pandemic, the money does not trickle down to their front-line workers. And those workers are demanding hazard pay and upgrade safety procedures during the busy holiday shopping season.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which represents 900,000 ry employees at chains such as Kroger, Safeway and Giant, urged retailers to do more to protect workers from the virus that has sickened more than 12.3 million Americans earlier this week.

At least 131 grocery workers have died of covid-19, according to the workers groups, though the actual death toll is probably much higher. Retailers are not generally required to report infections or deaths to health officials, employees or customers. All told, the virus has killed more than 256,000 Americans.

UFCW President Marc Perrone said:

“America’s essential workers are facing a holiday season of unparalleled danger. With more than 1 million new covid-19 cases in the past week, and deaths spiking to unprecedented levels, we are entering what could be the deadliest phase of this pandemic for millions of America’s essential front-line workers.”

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Meanwhile, according to a recent analysis of 13 major companies by the Brookings Institution, profits rose a combined $16.9 billion, or 39 percent, this year. The average pay for front-line workers is up only $1.11 an hour, or 10 percent, since the pandemic began.

At Amazon, for instance, profits are up 53 percent compared with last year. But worker pay — including bonuses, temporary hazard pay and permanent raises — rose just 6 percent.

Walmart employees got a 6 percent pay raise while company profits soared by 45 percent. With 1.5 million U.S. workers, Walmart is the country’s largest private employer.

“Amazon and Walmart could have quadrupled the hazard pay they gave their frontline workers and still earned more profit than the previous year,” according to the report’s authors, Molly Kinder, Laura Stateler and Julia Du.

Kroger, which gave employees a $2 hourly “hero bonus” from March to May, has largely funneled windfall profits to shareholders, the Brookings report said. The company bought back $211 million in stock during the second quarter and announced an additional $1 billion in buybacks in September. While those actions juiced the price of Kroger stock, the company’s cashiers, stockers and other front-line workers “have gone 181 days without hazard pay, and will enter this new, deadlier phase of the pandemic earning some of the lowest wages in the industry,” according to the report.

Separately, the workers rights group United for Respect called on such employers as Walmart, Amazon and Petco to pay an extra $5 an hour for the duration of the pandemic. Although many grocery and retail chains offered extra pay — typically an additional $2 an hour — early in the pandemic, most have since done away with the premium.

A worker at an Amazon Fresh warehouse said she fears getting sick during the pre-Thanksgiving rush. She said:

“Right now is what we call the ‘turkey apocalypse,’ where we’re asked to push out as much as we can. We are literally in the middle of an outbreak at my warehouse right now. Every day we get messages about one or two people getting infected.”

News sources: San Diego Union-Tribune, Washington Post

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