In April, essential workers were ecstatic about the opportunity to earn additional wages while working during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate passed a bill to ensure that there was a financial reward associated with the risks front-line workers take every time they clock in. Now, as unemployment rates exceed record-breaking claims, some employers are recanting on their commitment to pay workers ‘hazard’ and ‘hero pay.’
Retailers Kroger, Starbucks, Amazon, and Target initially announced that they would pay workers an additional $2 raise per hour, while Walmart incentivized their full-time employees with a $300 bonus and part-timers with $150 bonuses. Unfortunately, hazard and hero pay increases had expiration dates at most companies. Kroger’s ended May 16 while other companies like Target have extended its timeframe for workers.
A recent article by Vox outlines the challenges many retail employees face on a daily basis and will face as a result of losing hazard pay. Vox spoke with Kevin Smith, a meat department manager at a King Soopers (a Kroger brand) store in Longmont, Colorado, who said that the additional $2 doesn’t make a difference for workers because that only averages $40 a week.
He also shared how others disregarding safety and hygiene, as well as poor behavior, puts workers at risk.
“The other day I had a customer that kept stepping toward me,” he told Vox. “I would take a step back, trying to keep some distance between us, and I accidentally bumped into a customer behind me.”
Related: The Coronavirus Will Hit Low Wage, Black Workers The Hardest
To that point, Molly Kinder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies hazard pay told Vox, “When your employer gives you low wages,” Kinder said, “those low wages make you less resilient to the disease.”
In response to hazard pay being cut, many companies are offering one-time bonuses to employees, which some consider being tone-deaf given the amount of hours employees work and their need to survive. On May 15, Kroger announced “Thank You Pay,” which will gift full-time employees $400 and $200 for part-time employees. The payments are said to be paid in two installments, on May 30 and June 18.
Furthermore, it has not been announced what accommodations will be made after that.
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