New Orleans The irony and contradictions around so-called “essential” workers are vexing – mainly to the workers themselves. They have to go to work because they are, by definition, essential, yet employers in the main seem both committed to labeling them as essential and continuing to treat them, their health concerns, and their wage as trivial.
Some companies, especially those that have seen their sales soar during stay-at-home restrictions have added pay bumps, but in our heart of hearts, we really know this has nothing to do with hazards, but everything to do with trying to keep workers coming into work, rather than collecting supplemental unemployment. Amazon and Target both say that will continue making such payments through May, as do some others. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal,
“Only one in four companies that require employees on-site are offering hazard pay, according to an April survey by WorldatWork, a nonprofit professional association. Retail workers were likely to get extra pay, with 46% of grocers and other essential retailers offering hazard wages, compared with 29% of health-related employers.”
It’s kind of confounding that healthcare workers get the Blue Angels flyovers and the evening clapping, while liquor store workers are more likely to get hazard pay.
Partly, I wonder if there is an information gap for healthcare facilities that has been obscured by the small business loan meltdown. From some of Local 100, United Labor Union, employers we know there was a fairly heavy multi-billion-dollar chunk of the several trillion-stimulus packages set aside to support healthcare institutions. One of our employers with less than 500 workers has been able to access the money and is paying a daily premium and a bonus. One of our nursing homes is doing the same and offering a $1000 bonus to workers who stay on the job through May. Several of the nursing homes have negotiated permanent raises and contract amendments in order to keep certified nursing assistants, realizing the market is dire without fairer wages, now finally exceeding $13 and $14 per hour. It’s a good thing since 176 of Louisiana’s 279 homes has reported covid-19 cases. Some of our employers are too large to qualify. Others are likely too small and disorganized to realize that they are eligible and could and should have applied. Of course, our union is using this information as an organizing tool for workers in hazardous situations who are not receiving hazard duty pay.
Some are trying to call this long-needed adjustment to the minimal wages of healthcare and other service workers as “hero” pay. The New York City Council has introduced a bill to require workers with more than 100 workers to pay an extra $60 for shifts up to eight hours. The Journal quotes a McDonald’s worker in North Carolina offered $20 per shift and $200 bonus saying, “They call it hero pay, which is a really funny way to say ‘cheap hazard pay.’”
She’s hit the nail on the head. With reports of meat packing workers, grocery workers, bus drivers, healthcare workers, cleaners and others dying from coronavirus exposure because they did their jobs and their jobs were essential, such pay should be universal and shouldn’t be just nickels and dimes per hour.