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

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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