The government is spending trillions of dollars on COVID-19 stimulus and relief packages, yet the essential workers we herald as heroes receive no compensation. Experts warn that our economy is in dire straits, but those who keep it from deteriorating further receive little to no credit or compensation. All frontline and essential workers should receive hazard pay on top of their regular wages for putting themselves at risk.
When the spread of COVID-19 began shutting down cities and cutting into the revenues of retailers in March, large corporations such as Amazon offered their employees a small pay increase for continuing to work. Fast forward to the end of July and most of the hazard pay has dried up despite the pandemic death toll still rising.
Both the House and Senate have failed to get hazard pay into a stimulus package. In May, Democrats in the House passed a bill that would allocate $200 million to essential worker hazard pay, but four months later there is still no sign of the money. There is a disconnect between the Democratic-led House and the Republican-led Senate. Though the House passed this $200 million in hazard pay, the Senate does not plan to include it in the fourth round of stimulus. The Senate is not solely to blame, though, as Democrats have not fought much for hazard pay. Clearly paying essential workers is not a top priority for either party.
Grocery store employees are the perfect example of essential workers taking on increased risk for no extra compensation. With restaurants closed down or at limited capacity, most grocery stores are doing well despite the pandemic. Nonetheless, the workers who make that possible get no monetary thanks. Grocery stores are also one of the most dangerous places to work right now given how many people come in and out all day. The suffering of grocery store workers has not gone unnoticed as Kroger employees started protesting for hazard pay a few days ago.
The Kroger employees, like other essential workers, are worried that their employers are not doing enough to protect them. Many stores that reopened amidst the pandemic have slightly changed procedures intended to keep customers and employees safe, but these measures are not enough. Distance and face shields do not guarantee safety from hundreds of customers.
Not only do we need to pay our essential workers what they deserve, but we need to treat them like the heroes they are. When you buy groceries remember that an underpaid employee is risking their health, and likely the health of their families, to support themselves and the store. If essential workers receive hazard pay, they will have to work fewer hours and put themselves and others at risk less. All essential workers should be paid the hazard pay they deserve for working as normal despite their suffering.