During the worst of the pandemic in March and April, there were many efforts to provide extra pay to essential workers whose jobs put them at greater COVID risk than the general public.
Many large retailers temporarily paid more to store workers, and the U.S. House voted to create a $200 billion hazard pay fund.
Most such pay bumps ended months ago, and House Democrats dropped their hazard pay proposal in September. But now that the inexorable spread of the virus has resulted in an increase in infections and hospitalizations, talk about hazard pay has returned.
The liberal Brookings Institute has urged profitable companies to reinstitute hazard pay, citing a May survey in which more than three-quarters of Americans supported providing additional compensation to workers in essential jobs. The institute said most such workers are in low-paying positions, and the recession from government and public reaction to COVID has caused employment losses in half of their households.
One profitable business in South Jersey and beyond — ShopRite supermarkets — recently agreed to give about 50,000 union grocery workers an extra dollar an hour for their work last summer, from July 26 to Aug. 22. The employees will get the hazard pay in a lump sum before the holidays.
Wakefern Food Corp., the cooperative of ShopRite supermarkets, also agreed to discuss additional hazard pay with its unions if governments close all but essential businesses again.
ShopRite in March had started giving workers a temporary $2 an hour wage boost and enhanced sick and leave benefits. Joe Colalillo, chairman and CEO of Keasbey, Middlesex County-based Wakefern, said then that ShopRite employees “work tirelessly on the frontlines to provide an essential service to our communities. We hope these steps will assist them with their immediate financial and health concerns.”
Data from Europe has found that supermarket workers are at slightly greater risk from COVID-19 than the general public.
The 20 riskiest occupations in the United States are all dental and medical caregivers except flight attendants, the only nonhealth job and ranked 20th, according to an October analysis by GOBankingRates of data from Visual Capitalist.
Most companies that depend on personal interaction with their customers are also at higher COVID risk — in their case sick finances and the mortality of liquidation.
Some companies have remained profitable or even done better during the pandemic, especially those blessed by governments as essential and allowed to operate with few restrictions.
They should consider giving their employees something extra to thank them for wearing masks all day and facing more than the usual risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus.
Christmas is coming and so are vaccines, so companies can be pretty sure that whatever hazard pay they provide will indeed be temporary.