A wave of top US retailers and grocers are giving cash bonuses and wage hikes to their cashiers, stockers and warehouse workers on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.
The pay bumps, designed to retain and reward workers during the pandemic, are temporary. But industry critics hope they serve as a path forward toward improved pay for some of America's low-wage workers.
Walmart will pay special cash bonuses to its full- and part-time hourly workers totaling $550 million and raise wages for workers at its fulfillment centers by $2 an hour through Memorial Day. Amazon is temporarily boosting its minimum wage for hourly workers to $17 an hour, up from $15, and raising overtime pay for warehouse workers. Target is also upping its minimum wage to $17 for hourly workers and paying out bonuses to 20,000 hourly store team leaders. On Monday, CVS said it will give bonuses of up to $500 to hourly workers, store managers and pharmacists.
Grocers, whose employees are now designated as emergency workers in several states, are taking similar steps. Albertsons, which also owns Safeway, is raising wages by $2 an hour, Kroger is giving full-time workers a $300 cash bonus and part-timers $150, and Trader Joe's is setting up a bonus pool for employees.
H-E-B in Texas and Whole Foods are also temporarily raising hourly pay. BJ's Wholesale Club said Monday that it will raise wages by $2 an hour for workers and give bonuses to managers.
The last time so many companies announced pay hikes and showered employees with bonuses was after President Donald Trump signed corporate tax cuts into law in late 2017.
Now, grocers and retailers staying open through the crisis are trying to offer their vulnerable employees additional inducements to come into work and keep operations running smoothly. These companies are also hiring additional workers to keep up with demand and to give their regular employees a breather.
"These retail companies are trying to incentivize workers to come to work," said Patricia Campos-Medina, co-director of the New York State AFL-CIO/Cornell Union Leadership Institute at Cornell University's ILR School and a former SEIU official.
Campos-Medina predicts that pressure will rise on companies to make temporary wage hikes permanent.
"The expectations have been set that these companies can pay a higher wage if they are forced to," she said. "American workers will demand more from employers."
Despite the pay raises, some critics say Walmart, Amazon and other companies are not doing enough for their employees during the crisis. Walmart and Amazon have instituted emergency leave policies related to coronavirus.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wrote to the CEOs of the those companies and of McDonald's Friday pressing them to expand their paid sick leave policies.
"I am encouraged that you have recognized the importance of paid sick leave during the current crisis by introducing emergency sick leave policies," Warren said. "However, I am concerned that gaps in these policies will leave many workers without the option to follow best medical advice when they are sick, putting themselves, their colleagues, and their communities at greater risk."