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Public Citizen Report: Big Retailers Made Nearly $15 Billion During the Pandemic, But Most Halted Hazard Pay

Walmart Among Four Retailers That Ended Extra Pay & Spent Nearly $3 Billion on Stock Buybacks

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Starting in the spring, big retailers recognized the risk to their frontline employees’ health by providing additional pay, sometimes called “hazard pay” or “thank you bonuses.” A new Public Citizen report, Sacrificial Workers, shows that as the pandemic rages on, these businesses’ profits have surged – but most stopped providing employees extra compensation months ago.

“They may say ‘we’re all in this together,’ but too many big retailers are prioritizing maximizing profits over paying their frontline workers,” said Rick Claypool, a Public Citizen research director and author of the report. “While business booms and the pandemic rages, the rich are getting richer – and workers are getting sicker.”

The Public Citizen report analyzed the top 15 U.S.-based household retail corporations’ most recent quarterly earnings reports and their pandemic pay policies. The analysis revealed that, despite a combined $14.6 billion increase in profits in the companies’ profits in fiscal year 2020 compared to the same time frame in fiscal year 2019, nine halted additional pay for workers. The nine that stopped providing additional pay together made $10.5 billion more in profits in fiscal year 2020 than in 2019, the report found.

Five of the companies announced during quarterly earnings reports this week that they made $3.6 billion more in profits during the latest quarter of 2020 than they did in 2019.

Twelve of the companies are spending big on stock buybacks. Six reported a combined $3.7 billion in stock buybacks in the latest quarter while seven announced plans in the late summer and fall to spend a combined $17.8 billion on buybacks.

Among the reports key findings are:

  • Amazon has tripled its profits to $6.3 billion in its third quarter, up from $2.1 billion in the same quarter of 2019. The company made its last additional payment to workers in June.
  • Despite the $15.6 billion in profits Walmart reported making so far in fiscal year 2020 – an increase of $4.9 billion, or 45%, over 2019 – the retailer hasn’t provided frontline hourly workers additional pay since July. Walmart reported spending $500 million on stock buybacks in the previous quarter.
  • Grocery chains Albertsons and Kroger’s latest quarterly earnings both show profits that more than doubled compared to the previous year. Both stopped providing extra pay to employees months ago. Albertsons spent $1.8 billion on stock buybacks in the previous quarter and Kroger announced in September its intention to spend $1 billion on stock buybacks.
  • Just four of the 15 companies – Costco, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Publix – persist in providing employees with ongoing extra pay. Target has paid bonuses to hourly frontline workers twice, most recently in October.
  • Four of the companies that halted additional pay collectively spent nearly $3 billion on stock buybacks in the previous quarter: Albertsons, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Dollar General, and Walmart.

Contact: Derrick Robinson, Drobinson@Citizen.org