What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us
COVID-19

Some local governments have started mandating hazard pay

Kristin Schwab Feb 19, 2021
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Working on site during the pandemic is still hazardous, but many who do that receive no hazard pay from their employers. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Some local governments have started mandating hazard pay

Kristin Schwab Feb 19, 2021
Heard on:
Working on site during the pandemic is still hazardous, but many who do that receive no hazard pay from their employers. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Monday is Employee Appreciation Day at Daniel Gerson’s job. He works at a major grocery chain in Maryland. As a token of appreciation, “they’re giving us an in-app $10 coupon,” he said. “It’s insulting.”

The store stopped paying hazard pay in June. He currently makes $14.20 an hour. 

“I’ve broken my back, you know, trying to pay bills with reduced hours and keeping safe,” Gerson said. “And this is the thanks we get after about a year of doing this.”

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.

“The large retail and grocery chains have made windfall profits during the pandemic and have passed little of that to their workers,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

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.

Pennsylvania used CARES Act funding to create a hazard-pay grant. About 10,000 businesses applied; the money only stretched to about 640. And new rules in California and Washington are forcing certain types of businesses, mostly large grocery stores, to add “hero” or hazard pay. But they mostly leave out workers in food service and health care.

“The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” Kinder said. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

Some companies are still offering incentives. Target gave $500 bonuses at the start of the year. But Adam Ryan, who works at a store in Virginia, doesn’t think it’s enough.

“The industry standards are so low that when a company like Target does this, it gets celebrated as some exceptional measure,” he said.

Ryan thinks hazard pay should continue until the hazard is gone. Until then, he’ll keep taking lunch breaks in his car.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

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.”

Read More

Collapse

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.