- Amazon and Walmart have raked in billions in additional profits during the pandemic, and shared almost none of it with their workers
- Workers are risking their lives for ‘pennies’
- Amazon and Walmart’s competitors exceed their generosity
- A moral imperative to act
- A record number of Americans are losing their jobs — but Walmart, Amazon, Ace Hardware and others are hiring to fill 604,000 openings amid coronavirus demand
- Home improvement stores
- Delivery services
- Internet and telecommunications
Amazon and Walmart have raked in billions in additional profits during the pandemic, and shared almost none of it with their workers
The COVID-19 pandemic has generated record profits for America’s biggest companies, as well as immense wealth for their founders and largest shareholders—but next to nothing for workers.
In a report published last month, we found that many of America’s top retail and grocery companies have raked in billions during the pandemic but shared little of that windfall with their frontline workers, who risk their lives each day for wages that are often so low they can’t support a family.
This is especially true of Amazon and Walmart, the country’s two largest companies. Together, they have earned an extra $10.7 billion over last year’s profits during (and largely because of) the pandemic—a stunning 56% increase.
Despite this surge, we ranked Amazon and Walmart among the least generous of the 13 large retail and grocery companies studied in our report.
The two companies could have quadrupled the extra COVID-19 compensation they gave to their workers through their last quarter and still earned more profit than last year.
Through the end of 2020, the total additional COVID-19 compensation Amazon and Walmart will have provided their frontline workers represents only a small fraction of the companies’ extraordinary earnings, and an even smaller percentage of the stunning, pandemic-fueled wealth created for their richest shareholders. Stock prices for Amazon and Walmart have soared 70% and 36%, respectively, since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, worker wages will have grown only 7% and 6% by the end of the year, even after the new December bonuses that the two companies announced earlier this month.
Since March, the fortune of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (the richest person on the planet) has increased by $75.6 billion—42 times the cost of all pandemic hazard pay that Amazon will have given its roughly 1 million workers through the end of this year.
The wealth of Alice, Jim, and Rob Walton (billionaire heirs to the Walmart fortune and the country’s richest family) has grown by $40.7 billion since the start of the pandemic—26 times the total amount of pandemic hazard pay Walmart will have provided its more than 1.
5 million associates by the end of 2020.
These disparities are also striking when broken down by the hour. Through the end of the year, we calculate that frontline Walmart associates earning starting wages and working 40 hours per week will earn the equivalent of an extra $0.
71 (pre-tax) for every hour they worked since the start of the pandemic. In comparison, the wealth of the three Walton siblings has risen $6.2 million per hour, even while they sleep. Frontline Amazon workers will earn the equivalent of an extra $0.
99 per hour (pre-tax) for each hour worked over the pandemic. Meanwhile Jeff Bezos’ wealth has risen $11.5 million an hour.
Workers are risking their lives for ‘pennies’
Today, the gap between the extraordinary wealth of Jeff Bezos and the Walton family and the struggles and sacrifices of frontline workers Leah, a Walmart associate who preferred not to use her real name, is wider than ever.
Even before COVID-19 pandemic, Leah struggled to make ends meet. The starting wage for Walmart associates her is just $11 per hour—far less than the $16.54 per hour needed to meet the basic needs of a family, and considerably less than the $15 per hour starting wage at Walmart’s competitors Target and Costco.
During the pandemic, Leah has questioned the sacrifices she makes for a job that poses a deadly risk to her family but pays too little for her to support them.
“At the end of the day, I am making you a rich person and I am putting myself at jeopardy,” said Leah in an August interview, a Walmart associate who preferred not to use her real name.
“I’m literally scared,” Leah said an August interview. “I have two children and a grandbaby. Both of my children have asthma. We are all at risk.”
Leah explained that with a pay increase of just $2 to $3 extra dollars an hour, she could afford to buy essential items when she needs them most.
Walmart’s windfall pandemic profits could allow the company to easily afford such a raise: In the first three quarters of 2020, Walmart earned an additional $4.9 billion compared to last year—a 45% increase.
With that, the company could have offered hazard pay to associates Leah equating to nearly an extra $2.50 per hour and still have earned more profit than the previous year, when workers weren’t risking their lives.
Instead, the three one-off bonuses that Walmart paid full-time workers between March and November were worth an equivalent of only $0.63 per hour. In Walmart’s last quarter, ending in October, the company did not pay any COVID-19 bonuses at all, despite earning $1.8 billion in extra profits—a 56% increase compared to the previous year—and repurchasing $500 million of its shares.
Earlier this month, Walmart announced a new round of bonuses for December. Combined, the four bonuses will translate to just $0.71 per hour extra for full-time workers since the start of the pandemic through the end of this year—a 6% pay bump for a Walmart associate working 40 hours a week and earning starting wages. That is a fraction of what Leah said she needs just to get by.
“It is really pennies that you are giving me to risk me and my family’s life,” she told us. “Is it worth taking the risk? At the end of the day, I am making you a rich person and I am putting myself at jeopardy.”
Amazon and Walmart’s competitors exceed their generosity
While Leah’s low pay at Walmart has increased only modestly in the pandemic, many of her peers at competing retail companies earned significantly more COVID-19 compensation, often on top of higher starting wages. Companies Costco, Home Depot, Best Buy, and Target provided more generous COVID-19 compensation to their workers through a mix of bonuses, hourly hazard pay bumps, and permanent wage increases.
For example, Best Buy’s extra COVID-19 compensation was four and half times more generous than the extra pay Walmart workers received and more than three times the extra pay for Amazon workers. The extra COVID-19 compensation for workers at Target, Home Depot, and Costco was approximately three times more generous than Walmart and more than twice as generous as Amazon.
“Walmart is not doing enough compared to every other retailer out there,” a Walmart associate who preferred to remain anonymous told us in an August interview. “They can afford to do more than they are to show they appreciate the risks we are taking being out on the frontline making them money.”
The difference between Walmart and Amazon’s generosity and their competitors is especially striking given the companies’ rhetoric.
Since the start of the pandemic, Walmart and Amazon have lavished their frontline workers with public praise, including TV ads calling them “heroes.
” However, many of Walmart and Amazon’s competitors were significantly more generous to their workers during the pandemic—and did so with a lot less fanfare and less additional profit to pay for it.
Costco, for example, drew so little attention to its generous hazard pay—no press releases, no information on their company website, no TV ads—that we didn’t even know that the company had sustained its extra $2 per hour hazard pay throughout the pandemic until a proud Costco employee read our November report and informed us.
The company has quietly spent $14 million of its pandemic profits each week to compensate its workers, on top of industry-leading starting wages of $15 per hour, according to a Costco executive who responded to our inquiry.
As illustrated in Figure 1 above, Costco’s generosity resulted in an even balance between additional profits and additional worker pay.
A moral imperative to act
Amazon and Walmart do not have to provide living wages or hazard pay to their workers.
The prospects of Congress raising the federal minimum wage, mandating hazard pay, or introducing more sweeping changes ly hinge on the outcomes of January’s Senate runoff elections in Georgia.
And in a weak labor market with millions of unemployed workers, retail companies may not need to raise wages to attract applicants to risky work.
But even if these corporate giants are not forced to share their pandemic wealth with the workers who make it possible, they should anyway.
Companies Walmart and Amazon have the means—and the moral imperative—to provide higher hourly hazard pay and raise wages permanently.
Their frontline essential workforce, who have helped nearly all the rest of us get through the pandemic, certainly deserve it.
A record number of Americans are losing their jobs — but Walmart, Amazon, Ace Hardware and others are hiring to fill 604,000 openings amid coronavirus demand
Many employees in the U.S. are holding their breath, waiting to see if their jobs will be the next to disappear as the coronavirus pandemic cripples parts of the U.S. economy. But at the same time, hiring is ramping up in some industries.
Some 22 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past month.
As Americans practice social distancing to contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, layoffs are hitting sectors that rely on foot traffic, such as restaurants and bars, hospitality, and brick-and-mortar retail. Those job losses are starting to spread to other industries, including white-collar professions.
But the good news is that layoffs aren’t happening across the board. In fact, a wave of unprecedented demand in certain sectors is sending some employers on hiring sprees.
Walmart Inc. WMT, +0.68% said last month it plans to hire 150,000 new workers. The retail giant filled all of these roles in less than a month, about six weeks ahead of schedule.
On Friday, the company announced that it will hire 50,000 additional associates across distribution centers and stores, filling roles such as cashiers and personal shoppers, MarketWatch reported. The company said these new roles are ly to be temporary.
Also read: Traffic at Walmart, Costco and Target falls for the first time in weeks as coronavirus stockpiling behavior shifts
Walmart, Amazon has also gone on a second hiring spree amid coronavirus.
Last month, Amazon AMZN, -1.32% announced plans to hire 100,000 new employees to handle an influx of e-commerce orders and deliveries as more Americans stay home. On Monday, the e-commerce and cloud giant said it was hiring an additional 75,000 more employees.
The company said it had already managed to hire 80,000 people for the original 100,000 roles as of April 2. The current openings are across the U.S. “in fulfillment, delivery and sortation operations which do require people to be on-site,” an Amazon spokeswoman told MarketWatch
Amazon’s hiring in March was for fulfillment centers, transportation operations, Amazon Go Stores, Whole Foods stores, and in deliveries. “While most of the hires will stay with the company through at least April, we do anticipate there will be opportunities to stay with Amazon in a longer temporary or permanent role,” an Amazon spokeswoman said last month.
Amazon began doing worker temperature checks on more than 100,000 workers each day in select U.S. sites on March 29.
Beyond Amazon and Walmart, here are the companies and sectors that are ramping up hiring:
As Americans flock to grocery stores to maintain their “pandemic pantries,” shelves are being stripped clean. In order to restock them in a timely manner grocery chains including Albertsons Cos., Kroger KR, +2.18% and Trader Joe’s have either increased hiring or offered bonuses to employees.
The convenience store chain 7-Eleven announced in March that it’s hiring 20,000 employees for positions across 70,000 locations in the U.S.
“This will provide job opportunities and ensure 7-Eleven stores remain clean and in-stock with the goods our customers need during this critical time,” said 7-Eleven president and CEO, Joe DePinto. The company anticipates that the majority of the new hires will be used to fulfill orders on 7NOW, an on-demand delivery app.
Albertsons Cos., a national grocery chain which owns Safeway and Acme, “is immediately hiring 30,000 new associates,” the company announced late last month.
(7-Eleven and Albertsons did not respond to a request for comment on how many of those positions have since been filled).
Kroger is hiring 20,000 new associates nationwide across retail stores, manufacturing plants and distribution centers, the company said two weeks ago. Last month, Kroger announced plans to hire 10,000 new workers, but ended up hiring a total of 23,500 workers, Kristal Howard, a Kroger spokeswoman said. Kroger’s average hourly wage is $15 an hour, she said.
In the last two weeks of March, Kroger hired 30,600 new employees, Howard told MarketWatch in early April.
Trader Joe’s is paying bonuses to store employees amid an “unprecedented increase” in sales due to the coronavirus pandemic, Business Insider reported. The company did not respond to request for comment on whether they are also increasing hiring and how much they are paying employees in bonuses.
Home improvement stores
Home improvement stores have remained open in most states. grocery stores, they are considered essential businesses.
Tractor Supply Co. TSCO, +2.00% has said that it will hire 5,000 full-time and part-time workers across its 1,900 stores which cater to ranchers and farmers, the company’s largest hiring drive ever.
“Our focus is to bring people in as permanent employees,” Mary Winn Pilkington, senior vice president of investor relations and public relations at Tractor Supply Co. The majority of the new hires will be filling customer service roles and safety roles, she added.
Some 5,300 Ace Hardware stores have remained open across the country. In response to heightened demand for home supplies, the retailer-owned hardware cooperative said early April that it is looking to hire 30,000 new full-time, part-time and seasonal workers.
Lowe’s LOW, +2.49% stores have also remained open to ensure customers have access to essential appliances refrigerators and freezers in addition to cleaning products. The company announced late last month that it is looking to fill 30,000 permanent and temporary job openings at distribution centers and in-stores.
Because more consumers are shopping online and having food delivered to them, there is a need for more drivers and remote workers to coordinate delivery logistics, Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao said.
That sector has grown the fastest over the past month, Zhao said, according to Glassdoor hiring data. Most of the job openings are for truck and delivery drivers as well as warehouse workers, he said.
While these types of jobs may be less appealing to people who are trying to limit face-to-face contact with others, there are also a variety of supply chain analysis jobs and delivery dispatch jobs that can be done remotely.
“Obviously there is high demand in health care,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont, a New York-based fixed income securities brokerage firm, said. “But that isn’t something anyone off the street can do.”
CVS Health CVS, +1.17% plans to add 50,000 full-time, part-time and temporary workers, the company said. It has decided to take on furloughed workers from hotel chains. The company recently waived home delivery fees for prescriptions and said it is looking to hire more drivers.
The company has hired 5,000 people, a CVS spokesman, said. “Many of these roles are at the retail level and in our distribution centers,” he added.
Popular pizza chains in the U.S. are also experiencing a surge in demand as many restaurants and quick-service chains have shifted to takeout, delivery, drive-thru and pick-up only.
Pizza Hut is looking to fill 30,000 permanent job openings, Yum Brands Inc. YUM, +0.28%, its parent company, announced. As families eat more meals together, Pizza Hut says it has seen an increase in demand for its Big Dipper pizza, which offers two feet of pizza and 24 slices.
Papa John’s International Inc. PZZA, +1.64% also announced last month it’s aiming to hire 20,000 workers with an immediate start date. Domino’s Pizza Inc. DPZ, +0.38% says that it’s looking for full-time and part-time workers in a variety of roles, particularly drivers and pizza makers.
Hungry Howie’s, a Detroit-based pizza chain with 550 locations in 21 states, has 2,000 permanent delivery driver openings, the company said last month. Drivers can make up to $15 an hour, a company spokeswoman told MarketWatch.
Blue Apron APRN, +0.58%, a meal kit service that delivers to homes, also announced that it is increasing capacity and hiring workers to meet coronavirus-related demand.
Internet and telecommunications
While millions of American workers don’t have the luxury of working from home, many are doing so — 42 states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, now have orders in place keeping residents mostly at home.
In order to communicate virtually over platforms Slack WORK, -0.99%, Zoom ZM, -0.03% and Google GOOG, -0.03% GOOGL, -0.00% Hangouts, high-speed reliable internet is an absolute must.
Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic, a Northern California-based internet and telecommunications provider serving more than 100,000 customers, said his company has experienced a record surge in new customers. To meet the increased demand, he will ly be hiring an additional 15 employees a month to join his team of 520 employees, he said.
“With so many folks engaging in social distancing and distance learning, un many industries, we are busier than ever before,” Jasper said. Employees of Sonic, other telecommunication companies, are allowed to travel freely through regions that have shelter-in-place orders because their services are deemed essential, especial for emergency communication purposes, Jasper said.
Increased demand in the U.S. for respiratory equipment such as ventilators has led to more in hiring in manufacturing.
“At some point certain manufacturers will want to increase hiring so that they can make more ventilators,” said Stanley of Amherst Pierpont. “It’s almost a wartime operation,” he added. In addition to hospital beds and health professionals, there has been ventilator shortages in some states. The breathing machines are critical to saving the lives of patients with severe coronaviruses cases.
Last month, President Donald Trump announced that he was invoking the Defense Production Act, to require General Motors GM, +1.42% to make ventilators for hospitals to help patients with COVID-19.
The company, working alongside Ventec Life Systems, is on track to ship out 600 by the end of this month. They were contracted to make 30,000 ventilators.
“The effort involved sourcing hundreds of parts and assemblies from suppliers; the design of a new manufacturing process; the transformation of GM’s Kokomo factory; the ongoing hiring of more than 1,000 manufacturing team members; and the implementation of extensive health and safety protocols in the workplace,” GM told MarketWatch.
Additionally, Ford Motor Co. F, +1.48% General Electric Co. GE, +2.80%, were contracted by the federal government under the DPA to co-produce 50,000 ventilators by July 13. The contract price of the project is $336 million, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Ford says it plans to produce 30,000 a month starting in July as needed, MarketWatch reported.
This story was updated on April 17, 2020.