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Workers at Amazon's Staten Island warehouse on strike in March. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Hazard pay ends soon at Amazon and other major companies

Janet Nguyen May 14, 2020
Workers at Amazon's Staten Island warehouse on strike in March. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

This story was updated May 18 at 8:34 p.m. Eastern time.

While some essential workers have been receiving additional pay during the pandemic, that extra money is going away for employees at major retailers and grocery stores.

The termination of hazard pay comes as many states begin to reopen, including Florida, Wisconsin and Nevada. Although new COVID-19 cases are going down in about half of U.S. states, the risk of contracting the virus remains.

“If an employer was paying hazard pay and stopped providing it, there’s very little an employee could do,” Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, recently told Marketplace’s Kristin Schwab. 

The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t address hazard pay, only requiring that it’s included as part of a federal employee’s regular rate of pay when computing the employee’s overtime pay, according to the Labor Department. 

Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor education research at Cornell University, explained that hazard pay is usually a benefit that unions negotiate through collective bargaining.

In an interview with Recode last Wednesday, Amazon Senior Vice President Dave Clark said the company will extend hazard pay for warehouse workers through the end of May — but resume paying normal rates in June. In mid-March, the retail giant began paying warehouse and delivery workers an extra $2 an hour, along with double overtime pay.

Amazon’s minimum wage is $15 an hour for all full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees across the U.S., according to the company’s website.

The grocery chain Kroger had also been offering a $2-an-hour “hero bonus” to tens of thousands of essential workers but had planned to discontinue that pay yesterday. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union protested the decision, telling CBS MoneyWatch that “it’s clear the danger isn’t gone even as states reopen—neither should hero pay.”

According to the company, Kroger workers earn $15 an hour, or more than $20 if benefits like health care are factored in.

After receiving criticism for its decision to end hero bonuses, Kroger is now granting workers  one-time “thank you pay” of $400 for qualified full-time associates and $200 for qualified part-time associates. 

“Kroger seems to have heard us, but it is not good enough. Kroger’s decision today shows that we can have an impact, and that it is important for workers, communities and unions to protest against decisions that harm workers,” the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 said in a statement. 

Employees at the grocery chain Fred Meyer, whose parent company is Kroger, will also receive the one-time thank you pay in place of a $2 hourly bonus. Companies that had planned to end their additional pay soon, but later reversed their decision, include Target, which extended its $2-an-hour increase to July 4 — two months longer than it originally planned.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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