Nonprofit Oxfam America said Tuesday in a new report that Whole Foods Market and other U.S. supermarkets are “failing their workers” during the ongoing covid-19 pandemic.
As stay at home orders begin to lift in parts of the country and the pandemic continues, Oxfam said it is calling on supermarket companies “to adopt a fundamentally new worker-focused corporate strategy that ensures workers can exercise their voice and influence decisions that impact and protect their lives, along with customers.”
Oxfam said it analyzed the formal policies of major U.S. supermarkets during the first months of the pandemic including Albertsons/Safeway, Costco, Kroger, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon.
The difference between companies is most clear when it comes to engaging with their workers. Costco and Walmart have shown no evidence of direct engagement with trade unions or worker rights organizations in the United States, while Amazon is reported to have fired workers for daring to raise concerns about safety issues and organizing.
“Companies should fully recognize the human, not just the business value of their workers, and stop treating them as expendable,” said Irit Tamir, director of the private sector department at Oxfam America. “Whole Foods and Amazon especially seem hell-bent on rejecting the crucial idea that they should genuinely listen to their workers.”
Oxfam said the analysis focused on five areas: paid sick leave, hazard pay, protective gear, engagement with workers and worker representatives, and gender and dependent care.
“While all of these supermarkets stepped up some of their policies, none of them are doing nearly enough as they continue to make outsized profits on the backs of their low-wage workers,” Oxfam said.
“The covid-19 pandemic has laid bare our deep systemic inequalities and massive failures in our economic system,” said Tamir. “Nowhere is that more visible today than in America’s supermarkets, where workers are risking their lives every day in order to keep food on our tables.”
Grocery sales soared to 83 percent in the middle two weeks in March and have remained higher than average since. However, grocery store workers disproportionality represented by women and people of color, now deemed essential, continue to lack the appropriate measures of protection needed to weather the ongoing storm.
The $800 billion grocery industry employs more than 3 million mostly low-wage workers, who have few workplace benefits and lack job security.
Food retail workers have long been some of the most marginalized and undervalued workers in our economy, facing significant wage gaps and economic inequities, lack of pension payment plans and in many cases lacking access to basic health protections even as they handle the food products that sustain our communities, Oxfam said.
“As some health restrictions begin to ease across the country, it’s no wonder workers are worried,” said Tamir. “At least 100 supermarket workers have died from COVID-19 complications, yet some companies have actually rolled back key policies on hazard pay at a time when their essential workers need it most.”