United for Respect Members Call for $5/hour Essential Pay, Increased Virus Safety at Walmart, Amazon, Petco and PetSmart, as Unprecedented Covid-19 Wave Crashes into Holiday Shopping Season
NATIONWIDE — Today, essential workers at Amazon, Walmart, Petco, who are members of the worker advocacy group United For Respect, introduced a new ‘Five to Survive’ pandemic platform ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.
‘Five to Survive’ advocates for all retail corporations to provide a minimum of $5.00 per hour in essential pay; access to adequate paid and unpaid leave; virus safety measures like immediate and transparent notification of positive cases; including workers in decision-making when it comes to safety measures and protocol; and protection from retaliation.
RETAIL WORKERS THROW SUPPORT BEHIND ‘FIVE TO SURVIVE’
On a press call Monday, United for Respect member-leaders from across the retail industry highlighted the urgency of this agenda as retailers continue to push Black Friday deals and plan to keep their doors open to holiday shoppers.
“This pandemic is threatening Black lives and killing Black people at twice the rate of whites, but it’s a boom for Walmart’s owning family, who has made $48.1 billion dollars since March,” said Melissa Love, a Walmart associate in Long Beach, CA. “When the CDC is saying that Americans should not gather our families for Thanksgiving dinner, I do not believe that Walmart should be trying to entice crowds into our stores on Black Friday, and risk a Walmart super-spreader event.”
“Amazon is acting like the pandemic is over. They canceled the measly $2 bonus back in June. Jeff Bezos has made $70 billion since March when the pandemic started,” said Courtenay Brown, an Amazon Fresh worker in New Jersey. “Amazon calls us heroes in their commercials, they call us essential, but it feels like we are expendable. We need Five to Survive. $5/hour in essential pay, safety on the job, and real protections from retaliation.”
“A co-worker just tested positive, and the only reason I found out is because she happens to be friends with my best friend, and so she told me. There hasn’t been enough communication from Amazon about an exposure risk at our warehouse, and I haven’t seen any contact tracing and isolation,” said Monica Moody, a driver for an Amazon contractor in North Carolina. “We need a $5 pandemic pay bump at Amazon and the subcontractors servicing Amazon, and we need them to provide paid time off to care for family members or for safely quarantining, especially when there are outbreaks on the job. They make it a guessing game…It’s like russian roulette, when you’re just trying to protect yourself and put food on the table.”
“CVC Capital Partners, the private equity firm that owns Petco, is poised to bring in billions off their IPO during the pandemic, while I make $9/hour for risking my life every day. Unlike many retail companies, we were never offered or given hazard pay at Petco,” said Phil Andrews, a Petco groomer in Miami, FL. “I am HIV+, and so for me — as an immunocompromised person — the coronavirus dangers are extreme. I’m scared right now, and that’s why I am ready to speak out. We need Five to Survive.”
Diego Isaacs, a produce clerk at Harris Teeter grocery store in Charlotte, North Carolina spoke about how essential workers have been organizing as voters through Vote for Respect, a project of United for Respect: “It has been so painful to hear how the president has been so anti-immigrant, so racist against people like me, but at the same time calls us ‘essential workers.’ That’s why I got involved in the election and contacting voters in battleground states through Vote for Respect. Now we need President Biden to stand with us as essential workers. We are the ones keeping the country running and risking our lives.”
‘FIVE TO SURVIVE’ CHALLENGES RETAIL INDUSTRY TO PROTECT SAFETY AND WELL-BEING OF EMPLOYEES
‘Five to Survive’ calls on all retail corporations to provide:
- A minimum of $5.00 per hour in essential pay which workers say should be financed by the billions in pandemic profits reaped by retailers, for shouldering increased risk of contracting the virus by coming to work, and being burdened by the increased cost of childcare due to school closures.
- Access to paid and unpaid leave including 14 days of paid sick leave separate from vacation and paid time off for all retail employees, including part-time and seasonal staff, as well as 12 weeks of emergency paid family leave so that associates can care for their loved ones if they get sick. Retailers must also lift restrictions on unpaid time off and approve unemployment for workers who cannot risk coronavirus infection.
- Virus safety measures like immediate and transparent notification of positive cases in stores, and mandating regular and deep cleaning of all facilities, immediate closure of workplaces to clean when an employee tests positive for coronavirus, testing and tracing provided to employees, and full pay for two weeks so that workers at those facilities can self-isolate. Employers must ensure medical expenses related to coronavirus testing and treatment are 100% covered.
- Including workers in decision-making when it comes to safety measures and protocol. Essential workers deserve a seat at the table and are calling on the board of directors at Walmart, Amazon, PetSmart, Petco and other retailers to join COVID-19 task forces with hourly essential workers affiliated with United for Respect.
- Protection from retaliation including public commitments from retailers to not retaliate against employees who use any of the above policies. Retaliation can take the form of cutting hours or other benefits, workplace bullying, or termination. Whistleblowers who speak out on working conditions or virus hazards must be protected.
United for Respect member-leaders and retail workers were joined by policy experts and advocates, including the National Employment Law Project’s state policy program director Paul K. Sonn who asserted that the Five-to-Survive platform includes common sense steps that big retailers should take; the Action Center on Race & the Economy’s co-executive director Maurice BP-Weeks who discussed how the five demands are essential steps to addressing structural racism in corporate America; and United for Respect’s director of research Bianca Agustin who discussed new data that shows Wall Street bankers and billionaires have amassed nearly $1 trillion in profits since the pandemic began.
The data, taken from a new report from United for Respect and its partners, Institute for Policy Studies and Bargaining for Common Good, found that the total wealth of America’s billionaires rose by more than $1 trillion under the COVID-19 pandemic, as essential workers went underpaid, unsupported and forced to risk their health at corporations owned or operated by the wealthiest in the world.
Through the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, United for Respect’s member-leaders have been continuously campaigning for expanded protections and pay to keep employees and customers safe. Associates at Walmart have been sharing information about positive cases and safety issues themselves on a worker-sourced COVID-19 tracker. Amazon workers have also been sounding the alarm throughout the pandemic about the lack of safety measures being taken in their warehouses, and tracked thousands of positive cases at Amazon facilities. Meanwhile, workers at the leading pet care brands — Petco and PetSmart — have been fighting the companies’ private equity firm owners for greater protections in their workplace.