Are large grocery chains putting profits before people?
America’s largest supermarket chains have stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic with added safety measures, pay and benefits to support frontline workers in stores and warehouses. For all they’ve done, a new analysis by Oxfam concludes, they haven’t done enough.
The non-profit dedicated to ending poverty analyzed the personnel policies of Albertsons/Safeway, Amazon.com/Whole Foods, Costco, Kroger and Walmart in five areas: paid sick leave, hazard pay, personal protective equipment, engagement with workers and their labor representatives, and gender and dependent care.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare our deep systemic inequalities and massive failures in our economic system,” said Irit Tamir, director of the private sector department at Oxfam America, in a statement. “Nowhere is that more visible today than in America’s supermarkets, where workers are risking their lives every day in order to keep food on our tables.”
The Oxfam report states that at least 100 grocery workers have died from COVID-19 and that major chains, which continue to report strong sales, are seeking to roll back hazard pay despite seeing the numbers of infected with the virus growing in many parts of the country where they operate stores.
Seven states — Arizona, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — have reported a record number of positive cases and hospitalizations in the past week. The seven-day rolling average of new cases across the country has increased more than 30 percent from the previous week, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.
As the disease remains unchecked in much of the U.S., the federal government is looking to end support for local coronavirus testing sites by the end of the month, according to reports from the Houston Chronicle, Talking Points Memo and The Washington Post. Nearly 124,000 Americans have died from complications connected to COVID-19 to date.
The Oxfam report takes issue with large chains failing to meaningfully engage with employees and their union representatives at a time when good communication is paramount.
“Companies should fully recognize the human, not just the business value of their workers, and stop treating them as expendable,” said Ms. Tamir. “Whole Foods and Amazon especially seem hell-bent on rejecting the crucial idea that they should genuinely listen to their workers.”
Amazon, which offers a minimum wage of $15 an hour, and other non-union grocery chain operators have consistently maintained that their labor practices and policies are employee-friendly eliminating the need for collective bargaining arrangements.
- Exposed: How US supermarkets are failing their workers in a global pandemic – Oxfam America
- US Supermarkets Are Failing Their Workers – Oxfam America
- U.S. 7-day average of coronavirus cases surges 30% from week ago – CNBC
- Lawmakers protest as feds pull support from 4 Harris County COVID testing sites – Houston Chronicle
- Feds About To Bail On Supporting COVID Testing Sites In Texas And Other States – Talking Points Memo
- Federal government to scale back testing support even as hospitalizations reach new highs – The Washington Post
- United States Coronavirus Cases – Worldometer
- Will grocers maintain COVID share gains as restaurants reopen? – RetailWire
- Should Amazon, Walmart, others be held liable for workers sickened by COVID-19? – RetailWire
- The face mask rule is now simply a suggestion at some H-E-B stores – RetailWire
- Retailers focus on making safe spaces for customers and associates – RetailWire
- Has the pandemic transformed Walmart into an unstoppable force? – RetailWire
- Should grocers keep paying their associates like heroes? – RetailWire
- Is it safer to shop at farmers’ markets than in supermarkets? – RetailWire
- What should retailers do about social distancing renegades? – RetailWire
- There go the profits. Amazon to spend $4B on coronavirus response. – RetailWire
- Should grocers close their doors to customers for safety’s sake? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree or disagree with Oxfam’s analysis that large grocery chain operators are not doing enough for frontline workers? Where do you currently see the biggest need for improvement when it comes to employee management in grocery stores?