- President-elect Joe Biden is pushing food retailers to provide their workers with back hazard pay as part of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan the incoming administration released Thursday and wants Congress to swiftly approve.
- The proposal also calls on lawmakers to approve unemployment aid to grocery delivery workers, ride-share drivers and other self-employed people who ordinarily are not eligible for compensation if they lose their jobs.
- Biden’s explicit support for grocery workers follows months of efforts by labor officials to convince retailers to revive the bonus pay programs they introduced early on in the pandemic.
The decision by the Biden team to specifically mention hazard pay in its “American Rescue Plan” brings support from the highest levels to the argument that people who work in grocery stores should receive additional bonus pay for the risks they've shouldered during the pandemic.
“A number of large employers, especially in the retail and grocery sectors, have seen bumper profitability in 2020 and yet done little or nothing at all to compensate their workers for the risks they took,” the incoming administration said in a document outlining its rescue package. “The president-elect believes these employers have a duty to do right by their frontline essential workers and acknowledge their sacrifices with generous back hazard pay for the risks they took across 2020 and up to today.”
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris “will call on CEOs and other business leaders to take action to meet these obligations,” according to the document.
Supermarket operators were hailed early on in the pandemic for boosting worker pay as the industry scrambled to react to the crisis, but that praise quickly wilted early last summer when retailers terminated the extra compensation.
Critics mounted vocal efforts to compel grocers to reverse course, pointing to booming revenue and profits spurred by the millions of consumers spending more time at home. In a sign those calls were already reverberating politically, a group of 15 senators that included Harris sent letters in July to the top executives of grocers including Kroger, Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons and Publix demanding the restoration of the pay programs.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which has played a key role in the push to bring back hazard pay for grocery workers, praised Biden for pressing grocers to take action.
“Companies that employ essential workers, whether in grocery stores or meatpacking plants, must realize that they can no longer ignore health and safety concerns and the need for hazard pay," UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement.
H-E-B, Stop & Shop and Target all paid out bonuses late last year to their workers, while a few grocers have taken steps during the pandemic to boost worker pay over the long term. H-E-B instituted an unspecified permanent pay raise in June, while Natural Grocers announced in April that it would keep a $1 hourly pay bump for its workers in place indefinitely.
In addition, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion Jan. 5 that could lead the city to mandate a $5-per-hour "hero pay" increase for grocery and retail drugstore workers. The proposed ordinance, which the grocery industry opposes, is due for a vote on Jan. 26.