Walmart announced Thursday that it is giving $700 million in special bonuses to its 1.5 million U.S. employees, who remain vulnerable on the front lines as coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths hit record levels across the country.
The announcement comes amid widespread calls from workers for Walmart, Amazon, Kroger and other major retailers to reinstate hazard pay and strengthen safety protocols ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.
“As we come to a close on this historic year, I’m filled with gratitude for how our associates have led through one of the most trying periods for our company and country,” John Furner, Walmart’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “Our associates have stepped up to serve our customers, communities and each other when it was truly needed most.”
While scores of retailers have filed for bankruptcy as the pandemic flattens store traffic, Walmart’s business has been steady, helped by the explosive growth in online shopping as consumers stay home. The retail giant’s income swelled to more than $5 billion last quarter, and its stock is up more than 25 percent for the year.
But workers and worker advocates say big companies such as Walmart are not doing enough to protect and reward employees bearing the brunt of the risk in the pandemic. At least 109 grocery workers have died of the virus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 900,000 employees at major grocery chains, while more than 17,400 grocery workers have been infected or exposed.
The actual death toll is probably much higher. Retailers are not generally required to report infections or deaths to health officials, employees or customers. All told, the virus has killed more than 272,000 Americans. On Wednesday, the nation recorded more than 200,000 new infections and more than 100,000 hospitalizations.