‘Hero’ Pay Raises Disappear for Many Essential Workers

Many retailers across the United States have quietly stopped providing their workers with the pay raises they had dispensed at the start of the pandemic, despite surging virus numbers in many states.

The companies’ rationale for cutting back on this so-called hero pay is that the panic-buying that flooded stores during the early weeks of the crisis has waned.

Stop & Shop is the latest retailer to make such a move, ending a 10 percent pay raise it gave its 56,000 employees this spring to acknowledge that their work was essential and appreciated. Amazon, Kroger and Albertsons have also ended pandemic hourly pay raises, though some of them continue to give out bonuses. ShopRite said it planned to end its $2-an-hour raise early next month.

But while hoarding may be over, infection remains a very real threat, especially in environments like retail stores, where even with masks and social-distancing measures workers say they still feel vulnerable.

But a more sobering financial reality is setting in for some companies. On Thursday, Walgreens said labor costs and frequent store cleanings increased overall expenses and contributed to a loss in the third quarter. The company, which had provided full-time workers with a $300 bonus in early April, has not announced plans to provide any additional bonuses and is focused instead on cutting costs.

For some grocery chains, business may no longer be hitting records. But sales are still booming as Americans continue to eat nearly all of their meals at home.

Last month, Kroger said its quarterly operating profits rose 47 percent, to $1.3 billion. The grocery chain ended its $2-an-hour pay raise enacted in the early weeks of the pandemic. But it recently paid bonuses to employees “to acknowledge their dedication to maintaining safe, clean and stocked stores,” Kroger said in a statement.

Amazon, and its Whole Foods unit, had been paying store and warehouse workers an additional $2 an hour. Amazon ended those raises and has opted to give out bonuses, as high as $500, last month.

Target paid its workers an additional $2 an hour through July 4 and then gave all workers in its stores a $200 bonus. Target also said it was raising its starting wage to $15 an hour, though that was something the retailer had committed to do this year before the pandemic.

Instead of raises, Walmart paid special bonuses in April and late last month and is planning another round for September.

Union officials say ending the raises hurt part-time workers the most because they have tended to receive smaller bonuses.

“They got good public relations out of the raises, and now they are done,” said John R. Durso, president of Local 338 of the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union and the United Food & Commercial Workers union, which represents employees at Stop & Shop and other grocery workers in New York. “It’s all about the bottom line.”

Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren urged Stop & Shop to restore the pay raise, writing on Facebook that “the COVID-19 pandemic is not over and grocery store workers are still putting their lives on the line to keep Americans fed.”

“I could understand if this was some small business, like a tanning salon, that had all this debt and couldn’t afford pay raises,” she said. “But this is a multi-billion corporation. They have the money.”

Source Article