Retailers Phase Out Coronavirus Hazard Pay for Essential Workers
Top retailers in the U.S began paring down the hazard pay previously awarded to the essential workers on the front lines. Facing rising costs, plummeting business, and unprecedented unemployment rates, the essential workers no longer have the upper hand in the labor market.
Amazon.com Inc., Kroger Co., and Rite Aid Corp. are three of the major companies that stopped paying frontline workers hazard pay, or plan to do so in the near future. With increases in minimum wage, temporary hazard increases, purchasing personal protective equipment, and paying for workplace sanitization, retailers face costly requirements. Home Depot Inc. spent $850 million on extra pay, benefits and safety measures in its latest quarter.
With more than 36 million Americans filed for unemployment, employers have their pick of a new talent pool, yielding high turnover in the workplace. Amazon offers extra pay for warehouse working until the end of May, then will return to regular wages in June. The company claimed that the additional $2 per hour and double overtime pay functioned as an ‘incentive’ rather than hazard pay. Smart & Final Stores Inc. offered a wage increase through the end of May to ‘thank’ the workers for coming to work.
Unions and workers fight back against these shifts, saying they are risking their health to be at work in the pandemic. “As long as we are wearing gloves, as long as we are wearing masks and social distancing, it seems obvious to me that we are working in hazardous circumstances,” said John T. Niccollai, president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 464A.
Target and Walmart plan to extend their increases in wage: “we can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s going to take time to work through the pandemic,” Target CEO Brian Cornell said in a memo to workers.
As the economy starts up, bonus pay remains a primary concern of company executives, unions, and workers. In the words of Mark Skogen, chief executive of Festival Foods: “When is the danger gone?”