Will raising wages $2 help Amazon keep workers dealing with coronavirus chaos?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Mar 18, 2020
George Anderson

The coronavirus has hit Amazon.com and Whole Foods hard. The companies have faced unprecedented demand as consumers stock up on products to wait out current social distancing and shelter in place directives from various governmental entities.

The stress of meeting the needs of customers is being keenly felt by workers in the company’s warehouses and stores. A Motherboard report quoted an unidentified barista who works at a Whole Foods in Chicago who described the situation in the store as “post-apocalyptic” with associates “crying and having panic attacks.” The Whole Foods employee claimed that he/she had just gotten their first day off after working six consecutive days.

Earlier this week, Whole Foods and its parent company announced that they would begin paying workers an additional $2 an hour on top of their current rates. The higher wages will remain in effect until the end of April. Amazon and Whole Foods offer a minimum hourly wage of $15.

Whole Foods came under some criticism recently after an email sent by CEO John Mackey leaked out to Motherboard and other media outlets. In the email, Mr. Mackey asked employees to donate their paid time off (PTO) hours to fellow workers dealing with medical and personal emergencies. The same email said any workers who test positive for COVID-19 would receive two weeks paid off. Additional time will be granted without pay beyond the two weeks.

The grocer is also looking to reduce the stress on employees by closing stores up to two hours earlier than usual in order to provide more time to restock shelves.

Amazon announced earlier this week a recruiting effort to hire an additional 100,000 full- and part-time workers to help meet increased demand brought about by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Health and safety are a top priority with all of our roles and sites,” wrote Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, on the company’s day one blog. “We continue to consult with medical and health experts, and take all recommended precautions in our buildings and stores to keep people healthy. We’ve taken measures to promote social distancing in the workplace and taken on enhanced and frequent cleaning, to name just a few.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Amazon and Whole Foods come out of the coronavirus viewed as more or less attractive places to work? Do you think other retailers, particularly large chains, should be increasing pay to workers dealing with the various personal and professional pressures brought about by the coronavirus pandemic?

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Braintrust
"Everyone likes being appreciated, especially in times of stress. The raise, even if temporary, helps financially and emotionally."
"Retailers must realize customers are watching their actions and how they treat their employees as a direct reflection of their retail stewardship."
"This high demand enables them to be more generous with wages. Most retailers are in a different situation..."

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13 Comments on "Will raising wages $2 help Amazon keep workers dealing with coronavirus chaos?"


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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I think it is hard to pass judgment on any retailer trying to deal with the s**tshow we’re seeing now as panic rises. I hope it helps keep their doors open and associates safe. I hope no one gets sick. I hope for serious leadership from Washington.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Kudos for Amazon and Whole Foods for zigging when the rest of the country (and world) is zagging. It’s not as much about paying more as providing good jobs with reasonable wages for people. As employees in other businesses are losing their jobs or are temporarily being laid off, it is refreshing to see some businesses being visible about how they are positively managing the situation.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

As the saying goes: “It can’t hurt!” Everyone likes being appreciated, especially in times of stress. The raise, even if temporary, helps financially and emotionally.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Increasing pay for employees during these extreme circumstances is helpful, and I think other retailers in similar circumstances should consider doing the same.
Just having a job will be a blessing for some workers in these times.

Essential goods retailers like Whole Foods are in a real conundrum. The reality is, some of these workers will not be able to work, regardless of pay, due to illness, quarantine or dealing with kids at home or sick/elderly relatives. Furthermore, burnout will also be a factor if the situation persists, which most experts expect it will. Retailers facing significant increases in consumer demand should look to hiring additional staff to ensure they can serve customers and provide employment for people who will be looking for work. Additionally, I urge these retailers to bolster their security, crowd control and check-out procedures in order to maintain order.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

This is a great initiative by Amazon and Whole Foods but could be seen by some as a way to facilitate a market share grab in the delivery market. Research out of China suggests that the crisis has meant people who would not normally shop online moving that way – then actually realizing that this is what they want to be their normal shopping approach once restrictions are lifted. So the need for capacity is unlikely to go away.

Organisations that can pivot quickly will be the winners in this. We have seen examples in the U.K. – for example Morrisons (who coincidentally have a relationship with Amazon) are hiring many more drivers and pickers and have opened a call center to take orders from those with no internet access and are going to be selling simple-to-order basic food parcels.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

My oldest son has friends that work at retail for Whole Foods and they really like it. The $2 per hour pay increase has them thrilled. Granted they are in their early twenties and like the extra hours and pay at this point in time. I do believe other retailers will need to increase the pay of front-line workers to keep stores stocked, cleaned and open during this crisis or risk these employees going elsewhere for better pay. Retailers must realize customers are watching their actions and how they treat their employees as a direct reflection of their retail stewardship.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I just came out of a meeting where it was decided that increasing the pay of order selectors as well as giving them an incentive bonus is the right thing to do – and it is. It only makes sense since they will be under a lot more pressure to fill more orders to support the increased demand at stores. I suspect this will be the norm for a very long time as it could be many months before things get back to a semi-normal state.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I applaud this move by Amazon and Whole Foods. The stress on these workers is just going to ramp up in the coming weeks and this increase will help to soften the challenge. Nerves are beginning to fray and shoppers are getting increasingly upset by the shortages. The increased consumption is being blamed on hoarding when frequently people are stocking up to avoid extra trips to the store as they honor the shelter in place edicts. All of these essential retail workers in this pandemic should be treated almost like first responders as they are literally risking their lives for all of us and should be financially compensated.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

This is a bunch of nothing AGAIN from Amazon. Here’s why:

  1. This is a very temporary increase in wages. When the crush is over, Amazon is going to pull it back. There will be plenty of bad will when that day comes. This is all about Amazon and not about workers.
  2. “Mr. Mackey asked employees to donate their paid time off (PTO) hours to fellow workers dealing with medical and personal emergencies.” What? Amazon/Whole Foods can’t afford to cover this without asking employees to fund it? Mackey is a terrible CEO for so many reasons, this is another. Again, SKU for SKU as compared to other local stores, Whole Foods is often 10-20 percent higher priced. They have the money to fund supporting employees through crisis times. And certainly, in a crisis, Bezos could chip in some of his personal excessive wealth. Be responsible and truly support employees Mackey!
Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Unfortunately, the raise will do little to improve situations for employees. The PTO mistake has already been made and this will look to the public like a wash. The mantra is not employee first, but customer first — and the actions are in-line with this effort to placate customer sentiment over providing needed support for employees. No pay beyond two weeks and reduced store hours will take its toll on worker incomes that offset any raises.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Despite the regular stories we see in the media of how badly Amazon treats their employees, it remains one of the best companies to work for in America. In 2019 it replaced Alphabet (Google) as #1.

This is just a kicker to understanding the needs of their employees. It sends a message to those working under stress that they are appreciated in these difficult times with unanticipated challenges.

The move will not go unnoticed by the many who will now be looking for jobs as Amazon announces they will hire 100,000 new workers.

I don’t know if the answer for others is to respond in kind, but it is imperative that they understand the pressures their employees are experiencing.

David Naumann
BrainTrust
David Naumann
Vice President, Retail Marketing, enVista
17 days 3 hours ago

Offering better pay is obviously going to make Amazon and Whole Foods more attractive to employees and potential employment candidates. Amazon and grocery stores (in general) are in a fortunate position as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, as they are in high demand segments. This high demand enables them to be more generous with wages. Most retailers are in a different situation, where they are forced to layoff much of their workforce due to store closures and drastic reductions in demand.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Good or bad — not making any judgments, just covering my bases — I think whatever Amazon and Whole Foods (and pretty much any other individual retailers) do in the next few weeks is going to get lost in the maelstrom: people will be happy to have employment even if they’re concerned about exposure.

Exposure? Oh yeah about that: from the beginning of this, it’s been an article of faith that “at least online shopping can go on as usual,” but is that — or should it be — true? Does it make sense to close a store only to have people crowed together in a warehouse filling orders? To its credit (or maybe they’re just prescient) I believe Amazon is restricting delivery right now to essential items, but all online sellers will ultimately have to deal with the issue … a chink in the armor has been exposed.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Everyone likes being appreciated, especially in times of stress. The raise, even if temporary, helps financially and emotionally."
"Retailers must realize customers are watching their actions and how they treat their employees as a direct reflection of their retail stewardship."
"This high demand enables them to be more generous with wages. Most retailers are in a different situation..."

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