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Amazon and Walmart Halted Hazard Pay For Workers Despite Making $30 Billion

Top Supermarkets Supplying Thanksgiving Turkeys Aren’t Providing Hazard Pay

By Rick Claypool

cashier wearing mask at supermarket

Supermarkets have a lot to be thankful for. Their workers, not so much.

The eight biggest grocery companies have made over $10 billion more in profits so far in 2020 than they did over the same period of 2019. Walmart, which made $15.6 billion in profits in 2020, is the top earner. Amazon, the parent corporation of the grocery chain Whole Foods, comes at a close second, having earned $14.1 billion in profits so far in 2020.

Both corporate giants offered front line employees extra pay in the spring, during the first phase of the pandemic. Many retailers did the same. Sometimes called “hazard pay” or “thank you bonuses,” some added as much as $2 to employees’ hourly wage while others offered occasional lump sum bonuses. 

But, despite their windfall of nearly $30 billion and the worsening pandemic, both Walmart and Amazon halted hazard pay by mid-summer. 

Other top supermarkets are doing no better for their workers. Albertsons and Kroger’s latest quarterly earnings both show profits that more than doubled compared to the previous year – and both stopped providing extra pay to employees months ago. 

Out of the top eight U.S.-based supermarket companies, only three consistently provide extra pay for their workers: Costco, Publix and Target. 

But for the most part, hazard pay has stopped, even if the hazard hasn’t — and is in fact worsening by the day.

These findings and more can be found in the new Public Citizen report, Sacrificial Workers.

Top 8 U.S.-based grocery businesses, ranked by profits earned in the fiscal year up to the latest quarter of 2020.*

Walmart$15,601,000,000 $10,740,000,000 $4,861,000,000 45%
Amazon$14,109,000,000 $11,347,000,000 $2,762,000,000 24%
Costco$4,002,000,000 $3,659,000,000 $343,000,000 9%
Target$2,988,000,000 $2,447,000,000 $541,000,000 22%
Publix$2,770,700,000 $1,959,000,000 $811,700,000 41%
Kroger$2,031,000,000 $1,069,000,000 $962,000,000 90%
Albertsons$870,700,000 $343,800,000 $526,900,000 153%
BJ's Wholesale Club$325,148,000 $145,413,000 $179,735,000 124%
TOTAL$42,697,548,000 $31,710,213,000 $10,987,335,000 35%

Unable to work from home, front line grocery workers are hit extra hard. A recent peer-reviewed study finds that the infection rate among grocery workers in one store reached an alarming 20%. At least 238 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers – the largest union representing grocery workers – have died from illness caused by the coronavirus.

As a whole, the grocery sector’s profits have risen 10%. And in the near-term, they’re expected to keep rising. Americans are expected to spend 5.2% more on holiday food and drink in 2020 than they did in 2019.

With more than 250,000 Americans dead and cases rising higher than ever, the companies are showing no sign of reinstating extra pay for workers. Meanwhile, in spite of promising vaccine developments, the near-term outlook for the pandemic is sobering. The CDC forecasts that weekly case numbers could rise to 2.3 million by mid-December.

Thanksgiving Day marks the traditional beginning of the holiday season — a season of giving and gratitude. It’s shameful, then, that so many businesses that have become so much richer because of the pandemic are refusing to recognize the risks their workers take just by showing up every day.

“We’re all in this together” is usually used as an expression of shared sacrifice. But with grocery stores suddenly enjoying windfall profits because of the pandemic, it should also be used by workers to demand their employers share the wealth they create.