Apple would check customers’ temperature at the door of its stores and limit occupancy to enable social distancing, Deidre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and people, said in a blogpost last month.
Apple did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Companies across the US are joining in the largest-ever vaccination effort by offering employees perks if they receive the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
Receiving the vaccine is voluntary, but most companies have strongly encouraged employees get the immunization when it’s their turn. The two-dose vaccines, one from Pfizer and BioNtech and the other from Moderna, were emergency approved in the US in December. Since then, almost 34 million people have received one or more doses, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many states and localities have begun moving from the first phase of vaccinating health care workers and elderly living in long-term care facilities to immunizing front-line workers. With that, some companies are giving workers two to three hours of paid time off per dose received, and others are offering a stipend for employees who voluntarily get the shots when it’s their turn.
Recently, Publix, Petco and AT&T joined the growing list. Here’s the 18 Insider knows about so far:
Know of a company not on this list that’s offering employees time off, pay, or other perks to get vaccinated? Email Natasha, the reporter of this piece, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Target is offering workers up to four hours of paid time off to get both shots of the vaccine and will pay for Lyft rides up to $15 for employees needing transportation to and from their appointment.
2. Dollar General
The discount chain was the first major retailer to announce an incentive for workers to get vaccinated. Dollar General employees can earn up to four hours of pay for receiving both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and will receive extra time off if they have an adverse reaction.
Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, and The Capital Grille, will offer workers four hours of paid time off, two hours per dose, Bloomberg reported. Employees must show proof of their vaccination to earn the time. The company doesn’t require the shots, but strongly encouraged workers to get them.
4. Shake Shack
The burger-and-shake restaurant chain will give workers 3 hours of pay per shot of the two-dose vaccine. Shake Shack didn’t mandate employees receive the vaccine but “strongly encouraged” it.
5. Noodles & Company
Workers will earn up to four hours of paid time off for receiving the vaccine, the company said in a Feb. 10 statement to Insider. The restaurant strongly recommended employees receive the vaccine but did not require it.
The grocer is giving employees a one-time $100 payment for getting the vaccine. On top of that, Kroger said it would give associates an added bonus of a $100 store card and 1,000 fuel points to “thank and reward” workers during the pandemic.
7. Trader Joe’s
The grocery retailer will offer all 50,000 employees two hours of pay per dose and allow for flexible scheduling so workers can make it to appointments.
The app will offer its US and Canada shoppers, who deliver groceries to customers, a $25 stipend to get vaccinated.
The German grocery chain is encouraging workers to get vaccinated by offering its US workers $200 in extra pay if they receive the immunization.
The fast food chain is giving workers four hours of pay for receiving the vaccine. Though getting the shots is not required, the company said it will connect employees with groups that can answer questions on the vaccination, Restaurant Business reported.
The coffee chain is offering workers two hours of pay per dose of the COVID-19 vaccine they receive.
Amtrak is allowing employees to get vaccinated during work hours, and will pay for two hours off if employees provide proof they received the shot. Workers will also be excused with pay for up to 48 hours if they have side effects.
15. JBS USA and Pilgrim’s
The meat-packing company is offering employees a $100 bonus incentive if they receive the vaccine voluntarily.
The pet-supply retailer told Insider it would offer employees a one-time payment of $75 for getting vaccinated. Plus, it will give a $25 donation to the Petco Partner Assistance Fund for each person who receives their shots.
AT&T is giving employees up to four hours of paid time off per dose, adding up to eight hours total for anyone who needs the hours to get the vaccine, a spokesperson said in an email to Insider. The company is also giving workers access to Castlight, a tool to help them find available vaccines in their area based on eligibility.
Publix will give associates a $125 gift card to the store after they get both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Workers aren’t required to get the shots at Publix, but they will need to show proof of vaccination. The vaccine is optional, though encouraged, the company said.
19. Walmart and Sam’s Club
Beginning May 18, Walmart and Sam’s Club will give its associates below the store manager level $75 for being fully vaccinated, the companies announced on May 14. Workers are required to show their vaccine card in order to receive this bonus.
The advertisement went on to encourage people to have medication delivered via the startup Capsule, to “help keep our communities safe.” It was an ad targeted to people like me, who had spent the pandemic working from home and binging hours of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
The message was clear: the right thing to do to stop the spread of COVID-19 was to stay inside. But, what about the workers who have to travel to a pharmacy, picking up the medicine, and making the deliveries? If staying home means someone else takes on the same risk, is that really safer? Or, does it just shift the risk to someone else, typically to low-income workers?
This isn’t a problem that is specific to Capsule. The assumption that “we” can make the choice to stay at home has become inescapable over the past year. It has shaped how the US has responded to the pandemic in ways that ignore, dehumanize, and hurt workers who are already among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. And it needs to stop.
Food delivery isn’t going to stop the pandemic
In January, Vox ran an article with the headline: “Still going to the grocery store? With new virus variants spreading, it’s probably time to stop.”
The article is well reported. But the headline ignores the people who are most likely to catch COVID-19 in a grocery store: the workers who cannot decide to simply stop showing up.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said that at least 138 of its members working in grocery stores have died, and more than 31,200 grocery workers have been infected or exposed to COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the risk of a customers catching COVID-19 at grocery stores is so low that Dr. Marietta Vazquez, an infectious disease expert at Yale Pediatric Children’s Hospital, told me delivery versus in-person shopping is simply a personal choice, rather than a safety consideration. This is largely because customers spend far less time inside stores than workers, and therefore have less potential for virus exposure.
And ordering delivery does not substantially reduce the number of people in a store, because most services employ personal shoppers that are separate from store workers. Delivery can protect higher-risk individuals, but it isn’t the silver bullet to stop the spread of COVID-19 in a community.
Grocery store employees began to ask for masks to wear at work more than a year ago. Many requests were originally denied, with employers citing the CDC’s guidance against masks at the time. In February, Ben Bonnema said he was fired from his job at Trader Joe’s after asking the company to improve air filtration and deploy other solutions to protect workers. As of this week, only 13 states are providing vaccine access for grocery store workers, according to UFCW.
“Every supermarket in the country must increase worker protections, enforce mask wearing in stores, and commit to disclosing when frontline workers have been infected and died,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a recent statement.
The spread of COVID-19 is not materially impacted by whether people visit grocery stores themselves or pay Instacart shoppers to do so on their behalf. The bigger problem is the lack of protections for the workers themselves.
Most personal choices aren’t actually solutions
Dr. Vazquez told me that stay-at-home orders assumed that avoiding contact with others was a possibility for entire populations. But, that is not the reality for many people.
“Similarly, recommendations on how to quarantine at home assume individuals live in homes large enough for the symptomatic individual to sleep in a separate bedroom for example and be brought food while staying in the bedroom,” Vazquez said in an email.
“I think that these guidelines, although well intended, leave those with limited financial access to resources behind,” Vazquez continued.
Zeynep Tufekci, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina known for her reliably prescient pandemic coverage, analyzed similar issues in a recent article.
“Individual responsibility certainly had a large role to play in fighting the pandemic, but many victims had little choice in what happened to them,” Tufekci wrote in The Atlantic. “By disproportionately focusing on individual choices, not only did we hide the real problem, but we failed to do more to provide safe working and living conditions for everyone.”
Tufekci writes that ineffective “hygiene theater” goes hand-in-hand with a wider theater of personal responsibility. Public messaging reinforces the belief that if an individual does everything “right” – in some cases, having others to take on the risks they avoid – it can halt the spread of COVID-19.
“There have been very few things we could do at an individual level to reduce our risk beyond wearing masks, distancing, and disinfecting. . . . No wonder there was so much focus on telling others to stay home – even though it’s not a choice available to those who cannot work remotely – and so much scolding of those who dared to socialize or enjoy a moment outdoors,” Tufekci writes.
Everyone should reduce risk in whatever way they can. But the emphasis on personal choices ignores people who do not have many options when it comes to quarantining. That makes it more difficult to advocate for solutions that can best prevent the spread of COVID-19, whether that be improving ventilation or better sick leave policies.
As vaccines become more widely available and governments roll back precautions, we cannot allow the theater of personal responsibility to dominate the national discourse. Instead, we need to demand protections for all people – those who can afford to stay home, as well as the people who are actually delivering their meals.
Trader Joe’s on Wednesday rehired an employee who said he was fired in February after requesting increased COVID-19 safety protections in a letter to the company’s CEO, The Daily Beast first reported.
Ben Bonnema’s account of his firing from a New York City Trader Joe’s store led to calls for a boycott of the grocer’s more than 500 US locations. Scientists cited in Bonnema’s letter also came to his defense as news of his firing made waves online.
“It’s been a stressful week since then, but it makes sense that they offered to reinstate because it was a completely unlawful termination,” Bonnema told The Daily Beast Thursday following his reinstatement.
Trader Joe’s did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
In his letter to CEO Dan Bane, Bonnema outlined several changes he wanted the store to enact to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect workers, including increased ventilation and limited store capacity based on air quality. At the time, Trader Joe’s told Insider Bonnema’s account of his firing was “misinformation.”
“Store leadership terminated this Crew Member’s employment because of the disrespect he showed toward our customers,” Trader Joe’s said.
Bonnema shared his letter on Twitter in February, and it quickly went viral.
“We put our lives on the line every day by showing up to work,” Bonnema wrote. “Please, show up for us by adopting these policies.” He said he was fired for the letter, and shared his termination letter on Twitter. The letter he posted said he did not share the grocery chain’s core values.
“While we are pleased that Mr. Bonnema has been rightfully reinstated, we will continue to take all necessary legal action to repair his reputation that has been disparaged by the company through false accusations that my client engaged in misconduct,” Bonnema’s lawyer Ben Dictor told The Daily Beast. “We are also committed to ensuring that no essential workers of Trader Joe’s face any further retaliation for raising concerns about their working conditions.”
Now, Bonnema says that he is waiting to hear from OSHA about his concerns, and plans to be back at work on Monday.
Some customers have refused to wear masks for political reasons, and some encounters have turned violent, with workers shot or assaulted for asking customers to wear masks. Of stores that did not let employees enforce mask rules, spokespeople cited concerns for employee safety. Despite being hailed as heroes, protections for retail employees remain weak in the US, and activists are urging governments and companies to do more.
A New York City man said he was fired by Trader Joe’s after he sent a letter to the company’s CEO requesting the company make several changes he said would more thoroughly protect the grocery chain’s employees from COVID-19.
Bonnema did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment Saturday. Trader Joe’s also did not immediately comment about Bonnema’s employment or the company’s response to his letter.
In the letter, which Bonnema shared on Twitter, Bonnema asked for five changes in his Trader Joe’s store, including enhancements to the store’s HVAC system, an occupancy limit based on the level of CO2 in the store, more stringent face mask requirements for customers, and a three-strike policy for customers who refuse to follow COVID-19 protocol.
“Unfortunately, ASHRAE and the CDC and OSHA have downplayed the dangers of aerosols since the pandemic’s origins, so saying that Trader Joe’s ‘exceeds their standards’ isn’t good enough,” he wrote in the letter.
“We should be following the guidelines of scientists who study respiratory transmission,” he added, including a link to a February 17 article from The New York Times that reported a group of 13 scientists had called on the Biden administration to release rules to limit airborne transmissions of the virus in places like meat-packing plants and prisons.
“We put our lives on the line every day by showing up to work,” he wrote. “Please, show up for us by adopting these policies.”
But Bonnema said Trader Joe’s terminated him after sending the letter on behalf of his coworkers and shared his termination letter, dated Friday, February 26, on Twitter.
“In a recent email, you suggest adopting a ‘3 strike’ policy against customers and a policy enforcing the same accommodation for every customer with a medical condition that precludes them from wearing a mask,” the termination letter read.
In Bonnema’s letter to the CEO, he had called for the company to enforce mask usage – even in the cases of medical exemptions, which are often illegitimate, writing that Trader Joe’s employees can accommodate such people by shopping on their behalf.
“These suggestions are not in line with our core Values,” the termination letter continued. “In addition, you state that Trader Joe’s is not ‘showing up for us’ without adopting your policies.”
“It is clear that you do not understand our Values. As a result, we are no longer comfortable having you work for Trader Joe’s,” the letter concluded.
A group of Trader Joe’s workers promoting a workers union for the grocery store voiced support for Bonnema on Twitter. “We’ve spoken with @BenBonnema and are extending unequivocal support and solidarity. We will not be providing comment outside what Ben decides to share, but are supporting him in every way possible in this fight,” Crew for a Trader Joe’s Union said.
Retail and grocery workers were hailed as heroes early in the pandemic, as they worked to keep essential businesses operational during the lockdown. But protections for retail employees remain weak in the United States, and many workers and labor activists have called for companies to do more.
Bonnema’s claims would not be the first time employees of Trader Joe’s complained about their safety during the pandemic. In November 2020, employees of the grocery chain told Gothamist they were in a “state of terror” and claimed the company was not properly protecting workers from the spread of the disease.
Employees of several New York City Trader Joe’s locations, including the one on the Upper West Side, told Gothamist last year they were fearful of punishment from management should they voice concerns.
In a press release earlier in February, Trader Joe’s outlined how it said it was protecting employees and customers from COVID-19, including requiring face masks for most customers (and providing accommodations for individuals who were medically unable), providing masks and gloves to staff, health screenings for employees, and increased cleaning at its stores.
“The safety and wellbeing of our Crew Members and customers is, and always will be, top of mind,” a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s told Gothamist last year.
Last March, when lockdowns began, grocery store workers and delivery drivers were rightfully hailed as heroes of the pandemic. Even as restaurants and bars closed to stop the spread of coronavirus, grocery store employees risked their health, and the health of their families, to keep Americans fed while white-collar workers transitioned to home offices. From the very beginning of the pandemic they put on homemade masks to stock shelves, ring up customers, and keep the supply chain working when everything else shut down.
At the beginning of the pandemic, public respect for grocery workers was overwhelming and unanimous
Rodney McMullen, the chairman and CEO of the Kroger chain of grocery stores, was effusive in his praise: “Our associates have displayed the true actions of a hero,” McMullen wrote in a press release, acknowledging his staff for “working tirelessly on the frontlines to ensure everyone has access to affordable, fresh food and essentials during this national emergency.”
Kroger’s Hero Bonus pay program eventually ended in May, two months into the pandemic. But the pandemic has continued unabated, and grocery store workers continue to live with a very high risk of COVID-19 infection. A Kroger-owned Fred Meyer grocery store in Seattle had an outbreak infecting 10 workers in December, for example.
Although the risks for grocery workers are still very high, the hero talk has all but disappeared
And so has the hero pay: Kroger employees from around the country report on Indeed that baggers at Kroger grocery stores earn an average of $9.28 an hour, while cashiers report pay of $10.53. (Bear in mind, too, that those average wages are likely inflated due to cities like Seattle and New York City that embraced a $15 minimum wage .) According to nearly 37,000 employee reports, Indeed said, “Few people think they are paid fairly at Kroger Stores.” In exchange for putting their health on the line for a full year in thankless public-facing jobs, many Kroger workers earn wages that don’t even lift them above the poverty line.
This year, leaders began to demand that grocery stores pay their employees extra during the pandemic. Lawmakers in Long Beach and in Seattle, among other cities, passed a $4-per-hour hazard pay bonus for workers at large grocery store chains.
The laws brought some much-needed attention back to workers who have disappeared from the public consciousness, and that pressure seems to have worked: After Seattle’s City Council approved hazard pay, grocery chain Trader Joe’s responded by temporarily raising worker pay around the country by $4 an hour.
This is great economic news for everyone: not only are workers being rewarded for performing tasks that white-collar workers would never do, but those workers also have extra money in their pockets, which they’ll spend in their communities – including at grocery stores.
How Kroger responded very differently than Trader Joe’s
In both Long Beach and in Seattle, Kroger issued press releases announcing that they were closing two stores, blaming the hazard pay for the closures.
I suspect the situation in Long Beach is similar, but since I live in Seattle I can better speak to the closures here. The two QFC grocery stores that Kroger is closing in Seattle are small, underperforming stores in upscale, walkable neighborhoods that have other – most would argue superior – grocery options nearby. (The other thirteen QFC stores owned by Kroger in Seattle will remain open, as well as Kroger’s three Fred Meyer stores inside Seattle city limits, where the hazard pay applies.)
And, at least one of the targeted Seattle QFC locations had already been slated for redevelopment in the near future. In other words, it seems likely that Kroger could be exploiting stores that were failing before the pandemic to make the point they really want made – if city councils elsewhere try to raise wages, Kroger will continue to hold their employees’ lives and livelihoods hostage in order to keep wages low and profits sky-high.
Giant corporations love to use splashy intimidation tactics like this to create fear-inducing headlines which help to peel support away from worker protections. But make no mistake: Even though Kroger’s press releases suggested that the grocery business relies on “razor-thin” profit margins, Kroger has been making a ridiculous amount of money during the pandemic.
Because people have been working and eating at home over the last year, Kroger has boasted of record-breaking profits. For the first two quarters of 2020, reports the Detroit Free Press, its net earnings nearly doubled “to more than $2.031 billion compared with $1.069 billion in the same period of 2019.”
In the third quarter of 2020, Kroger announced operating profits of $792 million
And with grocery spending in Washington state up by double-digit percentages since the beginning of the pandemic, it seems highly unlikely that hazard pay is the tipping-point expense that forced Kroger to pull the plug on these stores.
And while Kroger isn’t willing to pay the “heroes” its leadership loves to praise in press releases, the corporation happily opened their wallets for shareholders this year, paying out a dividend of 18 cents per share.
Last year, Kroger said in a press release, “We have returned approximately $6.4 billion to shareholders via dividends and repurchased shares [also known as stock buybacks] since the beginning of fiscal 2017.” As thanks for returning obscene profits to shareholders, CEO W. Rodney McMullen received $21 million in total compensation in 2019, an increase of 76% over the year before and 798 times the median annual Kroger employee salary that same year.
McMullen wasn’t the only one who received hero pay a year before the pandemic, ExecPay noted: “In 2019, six Kroger executives received on average a compensation package of $8.7 million, a 46% increase compared to previous year.”
While Kroger can find plenty of money for its CEO, its executive team, and its shareholders, the corporation picks up its toys and heads home when city lawmakers ask it to increase pay for the frontline workers who have been putting their lives on the line so that Kroger can boast about their unprecedented profits.
The math is clear: Kroger’s coffers are more than full enough to reward its employees for their essential work in the midst of a global pandemic. McMullen and his executive team apparently prefer to keep that “hero pay” for themselves.