Companies are giving essential workers bullshit rewards

When the severity of the United States’ coronavirus pandemic caught on in March, Walgreens decided to have his workers wear jeans. It takes almost two weeks for the pharmacy announced it also gave them masks.

“The jeans thing I’d say was within a week or two after I was locked up. However, the gloves and timing of the mask pissed me off. Everyone else had them, and it would take about three weeks for the company to get them to us, “a New Jersey Walgreens employee told me. “We kept asking our manager when we would get them.”

Other employees were equally perplexed. While a relaxed dress code isn’t bad, it won’t protect you from a deadly virus. “The jeans make me roll,” said one employee Reddit thread when the policy was implemented. “Our conspiracy theory in our store is that they make us wear jeans to calm us down instead of offering us a reward / bonus like any other company does,” replied another user. “Because who wants more money on jeans?” Walgreens did pay one one-time bonus to employees for their shifts in March: $ 300 for full-time employees and $ 150 for part-time. But given the risks and concerns faced by its employees, such rewards seem deeply inadequate. And Walgreens is hardly unique. In recent weeks, I have spoken with several key employees about the often tricky ways their employers are trying to reward and motivate them.

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, millions of workers across the country are suddenly considered “essential.” And while commercials honor them and the audience applauds them, there is a wider conversation going on about how we can compensate and protect them fairly, not just now, but always. There is federal counseling with some guidelines for the protection of essential workers, and there are some legislative proposals for it protections and a fee. But in general, companies are left to fend for themselves in how they reward and reward their employees during the pandemic, and some have resorted to some less valuable tactics.

“Every job should be a safe job, no one should risk their lives, and one of the biggest problems in trying to encourage people to work in unsafe conditions is that it is inevitably condescending,” said Celine McNichols, director of government affairs and employment adviser at the Institute for Economic Policy.

A package of cookies from companies is no substitute for the sneezers you have been waiting for for weeks. Calling someone a hero is a sign of respect, but so are they, especially if they haven’t signed up for $ 10 an hour and don’t have health insurance.

A Walgreens spokesperson said in an email that the health and safety of his employees and workers is a “top priority” and noted that the pharmacy chain has introduced security measures such as improved cleaning, social distance and plexiglass shields during the Covid-19- outbreak. They said the company followed government retail guidelines and began offering face covers prior to the CDC guidelines in early April, which are now required. Of course, jeans were never part of the CDC’s recommendations.

A colleague on a fan and a monthly calendar

In mid-March, McDonald’s employees in a store in Monterey Park near Los Angeles began to worry management about protection. Like Mona Holmes at Eater Outlined, employees walked off work multiple times, alleging that management had not taken their concerns seriously and demanded that the store be thoroughly cleaned and employees paid over a two-week quarantine period.

In the midst of the drama, one of their colleagues fell ill. According to a Fight for $ 15 spokesperson, the colleague was hospitalized with Covid-19 and eventually ended up on a fan. (They have now been restored and released.) Amid all the drama, workers say a calendar for the month of April has appeared in stores. It included theme days, a kind of like week during high school: “Wacky Wednesday” for wearing your favorite sports jersey or crazy socks, “Sunday Funday” with bingo and trivia, and “#Freebie Friyay” with lotteries. HuffPost first reported the calendar.

McDonald’s employees and their supporters protest on April 3, 2018 for higher wages outside a McDonald’s in Chicago, Illinois. Employees have protested for better protection after the coronavirus pandemic.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

“Rather than worrying about what we need at work – because we didn’t have gloves or hand sanitizer at the time – they were concerned about a ridiculous calendar,” said Angelica Hernandez, a McDonald’s employee for 15 years, in a telephone interview.

“We felt offended because, first of all, we want us to protect ourselves, not insult us, and keep these absurd things out,” said Laura Pozos, who spent four years at McDonald’s.

Hernandez, 46, took part in two strikes in March and April, and the workers have met some of their demands: she said there are sneezes now, the store is conducting temperature checks, and the break room has a two-person limit. “I think we have achieved something, but there is more we want to achieve,” she told me. Hernandez has three children and has sent them to live with her mother-in-law to protect them. She is still concerned about her recovering colleague. “It is unjust that someone is a lifelong McDonald’s employee, and McDonald’s does nothing for their employees,” she said.

A new calendar has been drawn up for May.

McDonald’s said the calendar was created five years ago. Employees in the Monterey Park store insist that it is a new addition to their location.

A spokesperson for Fight for $ 15, an organizing group fighting for a minimum wage of $ 15 and union rights for workers, told multiple stories of rewards that companies such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell have given workers during the corona virus crisis: a free hamburger for an employee or their child, $ 20 worth of food in the store, a one-time “thank you” of $ 100 or $ 200.

“While some of these other examples are not as blatant as the calendar, employees think these incentives are a slap in the face as their demands for adequate personal protective equipment, paid sick days and pandemic are not addressed,” said Allynn Umel, managing director of Fight for $ 15, in an email statement. In addition, in the midst of this crisis, as workers begged for masks, McDonald’s paid out nearly $ 1 billion in dividends to its shareholders. It is wrong to hand out cash to shareholders as workers fight for health and economic protection. “

In an email, a McDonald’s spokesperson said that the restaurant staff is the “heart and soul” of the company and has the highest priority, and that during the corona virus crisis “it has continued to improve processes in our restaurants and adjust operations.” . The spokesperson pointed to benefits for employees, including five days of paid leave per year, two weeks of paid leave for those affected by the corona virus, and “nursing support” for those without health insurance. They added that activism in Monterey Park is “not an accurate representation” of most restaurants.

A mask should not be a victory

Many US institutions have been slow to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including government, healthcare and the media. The same goes for American business. According to a recent study from the Shift Project by the University of California Berkeley and UC San Francisco, conducted from early March to early April, employees of large companies report that basic safety protection at work is lacking. And while things have improved, the process has often been slow.

In mid-April, I spoke to a Family Dollar worker in Georgia, who told me she felt a ‘sacrificial lamb’ and was ‘terrified’ at work. She told me that on April 2, her store would have sneezers, but they had not arrived yet, although the company had managed to send cookies. “We look at each other, okay, thanks for the cookies, but that doesn’t really help us,” she told me.

Her salary had temporarily increased by $ 2 per hour, from $ 10.50 to $ 12.50. But she was concerned that her hours would be cut, effectively nullifying that increase. “I need my hours, I need every minute you can give me, and the hours are cut because they are trying to save money,” she said.

A Dollar Tree spokesman, owner of Family Dollar, said in an email that the safety and health of her employees is a “top priority” and that 99 percent of stores now have plexiglass guards. “We have prioritized the areas most affected by the pandemic. There were no major delays during this initiative, “said the spokesman. When I checked in with Kristi in May, she told me that the guards had finally arrived.

The problem with rewards like cookies, calendars, relaxed dress codes or an extra dollar or two is not that they are necessarily bad, but if they don’t come with real protection, transparency and significant pay, they will fall flat.

“Obviously, people want their employers to show their recognition through words, but certainly by taking action,” said Molly Kinder, a researcher focused on employee equity at the Brookings Institution. “Nothing’s off the table because you had lunch.”

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that many low-paid jobs are the engine of our economy. And even though the country is well aware of how essential these workers are, it still can’t quite break through how they are treated. Many are still low-paid, many still have no benefits, and many still need to seek basic protection and respect.

Denise Allegretti and Margarette Nerette, organizers of the 1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East, represent more than 8,000 workers in Florida nursing homes. They told me that a handful of employers they are dealing with offered a small one-time bonus, and some added an extra $ 1 or $ 3 in danger money. “We think that’s nonsense,” said Nerette. “People are putting their lives at risk, and this is how management thanks them?”

The couple described pleading with nursing home management for transparency and answering calls from workers begging for protective equipment and fearing for their lives. The day I spoke to them, they had just learned that a worker in their unit had died of Covid-19. “It certainly has an impact on the rest of the workers,” said Allegretti. She added, “We need employers to be transparent, they need to meet workers every day and provide updates on what’s going on in the building. It pulls teeth to make sure it happens everywhere.”

“Whether it’s a premium you pay, or you’re offering something as ridiculously embarrassing as wearing jeans to work or your favorite team jersey, you’re essentially saying to employees, ‘We should do X or Y to maximize your safety, but instead of doing that, we give you a little boost, “and they stay between a rock and a hard place,” she said. Employees need the job and the wages, so they need the calculation if it’s worth the risk.

Hostility develops among many essential workers. Many earn less at work than they would with unemployment insurance, but they feel stuck in their jobs because the benefits generally don’t go to people who quit. Rewards and recognition can also be a source of bitterness – in healthcare, there is a lot of praise for doctors and nurses, but what about hospital cleaning staff or home medical devices? And if these problems are not addressed now, the anger that has now built up will persist.

“Something will have to be done after this has been said and done to make peace with this or you will have a very angry workforce,” a social worker at a Queens hospital told me.

Companies can and should do better with their employees, but that doesn’t mean they will. “It is really important that companies now take the time to step back and really look at their full benefits and ask: are we doing the right thing in the current situation? And they need to keep an eye on how it looks will look like in three months or six months later, “said Jeff Cates, the CEO of Achievers, a company that focuses on benefits and rewards. McDonald’s is one of Achievers’ customers, but focuses on online recognition. It doesn’t work with the Monterey Park location and calendar was not bound by the advice.

We don’t have to guess what employees want. We can ask them.

Worker power and unions have steadily declined in recent decades, which is one of the reasons so many essential workers are left to the whim of their employers. The government does not protect them and legislators from both sides have abandoned them, so they have to take care of themselves.

As Luke Winkie recently explained for The Goods, some employees use Reddit and Facebook to connect, exchange stories, get information and organize. Although these communities existed before the pandemic, they have become a crucial resource for workers in extreme stress. Winkie points out that a Kroger employee in Arkansas didn’t know the company was going to offer risk money until she found out on Facebook. (Hazard pay – or rather, “hero pay” – that is set to expire on May 17)

These less than great rewards often show up in these groups. One UPS employee shared one meme about ignored reward requirements, where a company asks, “What do you want? How about a light show and applause? Shall we call you heroes? A CFS worker shared one meme about jeans day. (It seems to be a trend.)

Deciphering what is and isn’t a valuable way to reward employees is not an exact science. After all, what is an appropriate amount to risk the health of you and your family during a pandemic? An extra $ 3 an hour? How about an extra $ 30? Which size bonus? And some individuals may perceive benefits differently. In an essential employee Facebook group that I was a part of, one employee said that her company started a $ 250 draw for people who finish all their shifts every week, noting that being a workaholic pays off sometimes and her excitement about her happiness. Another employee in the group was unimpressed: “Thanks for risking you and your families [sic] welfare lottery? Fun but insulting really fun. ‘

While it is a complex problem, it is not impossible to at least tackle it. At the moment, more employees are speaking out about their questions – For example, fight for $ 15, has prepared a list of Covid-related requirements, and employee activism in places like Amazon, Instacart, and Trader Joe’s is on the rise.

“Employees in these positions know what they need and we need to listen to them,” said McNichols, emphasizing the importance of workers’ power and, where possible, unions. “It is even more important that employees have the ability to activate those victories for themselves at work.”

It’s also worth noting that the way in which these workers are treated and how they are and are not compensated goes far beyond the pandemic.

“What our wider research shows is that stable hours, efficient hours, meaningful wages, these things really matter for people’s health and well-being and their children’s well-being,” said Danny Schneider, assistant professor of sociology at university from California Berkeley. “The amount of dangers and bonuses they’re talking about doesn’t change these fundamentals of job quality, and those things are more important now.”

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