Retail workers deserve kudos, cash

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Retailers have been among the essential businesses Americans have relied on to help them get through the COVID-19 pandemic, and much of the credit goes to the frontline employees working in the stores.

Their efforts will be more important than ever in the coming weeks. Despite the encouraging news that vaccines are on the way, the country is still facing some dark months ahead as colder weather forces people inside and the virus spreads.

Cases are already surging throughout the country — on December 3 there were 216,548 new cases reported in the United States, and 2,857 deaths. That in turn is prompting new lockdowns and the shuttering again of nonessential businesses.

That will put the spotlight once again on retail workers. So it is encouraging to see some retail companies recognizing their contributions and rewarding their work in these difficult times.

Among them is Walmart, which is featured elsewhere in this issue for the success it has had in remaking itself as an omnichannel retailer.

Walmart said on December 3 that it would pay about $700 million in additional cash bonuses to its U.S.-based associates. That includes $319 million in quarterly bonuses paid in associates’ November 25 paychecks following the company’s strong third quarter business performance, and an estimated $388 million in special cash bonuses that will be paid on December 24 “in recognition of associates’ sustained commitment to customers during the pandemic,” the company said, adding that full- and part-time associates are eligible for both bonuses.

Walmart also said it was extending its COVID-19 emergency leave policy for part- and full-time associates, which provides associates with up to two weeks of pay should they need to stay home for COVID-related reasons, including mandated quarantines, symptoms or illness. If they’re not able to return to work after that time, additional pay replacement may be provided for up to 26 weeks. Absences associated with an approved COVID-19 leave will not be counted against associates. Given the ongoing pandemic, the company is extending the leave policy through July 5, 2021.

“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,” Walmart U.S. president and chief executive officer John Furner said. “Our associates have stepped up to serve our customers, communities and each other when it was truly needed most, and we’re pleased to recognize their efforts with a quarterly bonus for strong store performance and a fourth special cash bonus.”

Walmart is not the only retailer boosting the pay of employees. But many other retailers are not, and they should reconsider. Crediting employees for their contributions, as many executives have done in their company’s quarterly earnings statements, is nice. But some extra cash is even better.


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