New analysis outlines how companies are not doing enough while they continue to make outsized profits on the backs of their low-wage workers
Supermarkets are failing their workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new Oxfam analysis released today. As stay at home orders begin to lift in parts of the country and the pandemic continues, Oxfam called on supermarket companies to adopt a fundamentally new worker-focused corporate strategy that ensures workers can exercise their voice and influence decisions that impact and protect their lives, along with customers.
Oxfam analyzed the formal policies of major US supermarkets during the first months of the pandemic, including Albertsons/Safeway, Costco, Kroger, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon in five key areas: paid sick leave, hazard pay, protective gear, engagement with workers and worker representatives, and gender and dependent care. While all of these supermarkets stepped up some of their policies, none of them are doing nearly enough as they continue to make outsized profits on the backs of their low-wage workers.
“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. “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.”
Grocery sales soared to 83 percent in the middle two weeks in March and have remained higher than average since. However, grocery store workers disproportionality represented by women and people of color, now deemed essential, continue to lack the appropriate measures of protection needed to weather the ongoing storm. The $800 billion grocery industry employs more than 3 million mostly low-wage workers, who have few workplace benefits and lack job security. Food retail workers have long been some of the most marginalized and undervalued workers in our economy, facing significant wage gaps and economic inequities, lack of pension payment plans and in many cases lacking access to basic health protections even as they handle the food products that sustain our communities.
“As some health restrictions begin to ease across the country, it’s no wonder workers are worried,” said Tamir. “At least 100 supermarket workers have died from COVID-19 complications, yet some companies have actually rolled back key policies on hazard pay at a time when their essential workers need it most.”
While all companies have implemented some form of protective measures and are aligning their policy with the CDC guidance to safeguard their workers’ health and safety, workers continue to report that they are afraid of getting sick while working in grocery stores. The difference between companies is most clear when it comes to engaging with their workers. Costco and Walmart have shown no evidence of direct engagement with trade unions or worker rights organizations in the United States, while Amazon is reported to have fired workers for daring to raise concerns about safety issues and organizing.
“Companies should fully recognize the human, not just the business value of their workers, and stop treating them as expendable,” said Tamir. “Whole Foods and Amazon especially seem hell-bent on rejecting the crucial idea that they should genuinely listen to their workers.”