Facing Pressure From Associates, Walmart Doubles Down on Failed Coronavirus Response
Associates call for immediate paid sick leave, enhanced protective equipment
NATIONWIDE — Following a set of demands put forward by concerned Walmart associates and leaders with United for Respect, Walmart announced workplace changes to address issues of health and safety during the COVID-19 outbreak. In response, Sanjuana Arreola, a United for Respect leader and Walmart associate of 10 years, shared the following statement:
“Yesterday, I called on Walmart to take comprehensive action to protect associates like me. In response to the increasing pressure we’re putting on Walmart’s executives, we’re seeing small steps in the right direction. But an emergency like this demands drastic, immediate changes.
This announcement does nothing to address the main concern my fellow associates and I face: We are still scared to go into work everyday. We are afraid for our lives.
Access to telemedicine is NOT a substitute for a meaningful paid leave, especially not for the many of the over 500,000 part-timers who don’t have access to Walmart’s health insurance in the first place.
Plexiglass barriers are NOT a substitute for protective gear and hand sanitizer, or store policies that would require customers to comply with CDC guidelines for social distancing.
A financial planning application is NOT a substitute for living wages, full-time work, or extra hazard pay, while we provide for our customers during this dangerous time.
These are not real solutions for associates like me — they’re insulting, especially when the company’s emergency leave policy doesn’t provide any additional leave to workers who are ill, but aren’t already diagnosed with COVID-19 or subject to quarantine.
Throughout this crisis, Walmart has failed associates like me and our customers by putting band-aids on the company’s structural problems. If there was ever a time for Walmart to act responsibly, it is now — by prioritizing our health and safety, we can prioritize our customers’ and our communities’ health and safety during this pandemic.”
Retail giants Amazon and Walmart continue to stay open and profit from this public health crisis, yet both corporations have failed to implement policies that provide all part-time and full-time employees — not just those who contract COVID-19 or must quarantine — with paid sick leave, adequate protective equipment, and comprehensive health coverage during this period for themselves or their families.
Despite the heightened risk Walmart and Amazon employees face by continuing to serve the public, neither corporation has instituted hazard pay to adequately compensate people who are putting themselves and their families at risk by working. Additionally, Walmart is hiring an army of 150,000 temporary employees at the same time most of Walmart’s over 500,000 part time employees are clamoring for more hours just to make ends meet and for many, to even qualify for health coverage.
The Shift Project at the University of California, Berkeley found that 53% of hourly service sector workers at 91 large companies lack access to paid sick leave; the percentage grows to 62% of workers in U.S. states and cities that do not mandate paid sick leave. Additionally, a United for Respect survey of Walmart associates in 2018 found that 88% of people at Walmart report having gone to work sick.
Congress exempted large corporations like Walmart and Amazon from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) legislation that requires businesses provide emergency paid sick and family leave to their workforces. Consequently, millions of working people are likely to go to work sick in fear of losing their job or benefits, adding to the public health care crisis. Retail employees and paid leave advocates are calling on Congress to ensure that the third stimulus package includes the P.A.I.D. Leave Act, which covers all employees, and to end the exemption for employers of 500 or more.
Since its launch on March 11, United for Respect’s sick time petition at Walmart has garnered more than 45,000 signatures, signaling growing employee momentum for an overhauled sick time policy at the nation’s largest corporate employer.