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Grocery, retail workers urge reinstatement of hazard pay ahead of holiday rush

Grocery, retail workers urge reinstatement of hazard pay ahead of holiday rush
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Organizations representing the interests of grocery and retail workers are calling on companies to reinstate hazard pay ahead of the expected holiday rush as coronavirus cases surge across the country.

The workers rights group United for Respect requested companies such as Walmart, Amazon and Petco pay its employees an extra $5 per hour throughout the rest of the pandemic in a Monday announcement.

In the spring, employees from many grocery and retail stores received hazard pay for working during the early stages of the pandemic, but most companies have since gotten rid of the extra pay. 

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United for Respect’s “Five to Survive” campaign is demanding workers have access to paid and unpaid leave, virus safety precautions including transparency about cases, decision-making for safety measures and protection from retaliation. 

A separate group the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which represents workers from chains such as Kroger, Giant and Safeway, called on companies on Monday to take more action to protect workers as coronavirus cases are confirmed at high levels every day in the U.S.

At least 131 grocery workers have died from COVID-19, according to a Washington Post analysis of worker groups data, although the newspaper notes the actual death toll is likely higher. Retailers are not required to report cases or deaths to officials, making the total number of worker fatalities hard to track down. 

“America’s essential workers are facing a holiday season of unparalleled danger,” UFCW President Marc Perrone said during a call with reporters, according to the Post. “With more than 1 million new COVID-19 cases in the past week, and deaths spiking to unprecedented levels, we are entering what could be the deadliest phase of this pandemic for millions of America’s essential front-line workers.”

As the U.S.’s top retail companies have earned record-breaking profits during the pandemic, this increase in profit has not transferred to workers, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of 13 major companies. 

The analysis from the center-left organization determined that profits rose $16.9 billion – or 39 percent – across the 13 companies, while the average pay for frontline workers rose $1.11 per hour – 10 percent – since the beginning of the pandemic.

The U.S. has confirmed COVID-19 has infected more than 12.3 million Americans and killed 257,560, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Several areas of the country are struggling with rising hospitalizations and less availability in intensive care units.