By Devin Davidson
November 19th, 2020
As the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic settled in, many retail workers received bonuses and raises in appreciation for their commitment to the public, despite increased health risks. As coronavirus cases begin surging across the country again, the retail industry is preparing for another rush from shoppers concerned with new lockdowns, restrictions, and possible shortages. This time however, retail workers are not expecting the same bonuses and pay raises, begging the question: what issues are preventing retailers from compensating those once heralded as heroes amidst this new wave of COVID-19? Simply put, nothing.
In the NYT article, “Virus Cases Rise, but Hazard Pay for Retail Workers Doesn’t,” reports of the quarterly sales of Amazon and Walmart indicate that the retail industry is booming with sales soaring and predictions that “2021 business results will be higher than were expected prior to the Covid-19 pandemic” (Corkery and Maheshwari, 2020). Amazon announced just “last month that its quarterly profit had increased nearly 200 percent,” yet it ended its pandemic-related raises and has announced no new hazard pay in its place despite these earnings (Corkery and Maheshwari, 2020). Statistics from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union also indicated that out of the one million grocery workers they represent, 108 had died as a result of COVID-19 with another 16,300 having been infected or exposed (Corkery and Maheshwari, 2020). Clearly, frontline workers serving the retail industry take on a sizable risk. And though some, such as Senator Mitt Romney have called for federal funds to compensate frontline workers, haphazard pay is often left out of proposed stimulus bills.
As discussed in “Business and Society: Stakeholders, Ethics, and Policy,” an important duty of employees is to pay a fair and decent wage. How wages should be determined, and what exactly is fair or decent remains unanswered. In the case of frontline workers and companies in the retail industry, I believe that “many retailers are not sharing enough of the profits they have earned during the pandemic with their workers” (Corkery and Maheshwari, 2020). Companies such as Amazon and Walmart have the money to fairly compensate their employees for the added risk they are taking on. As low-wage workers, these individuals often have the least, but are being asked to sacrifice the most, without proper compensation. Given the exceeding profits collected by those in the retail industry, retailers should properly compensate their heroic frontline workers. Taking on a socially conscious may even benefit them as employee’s who are fairly compensated tend to be more productive, deliver better customer service, are innovative, and more flexible during difficult times.