‘Every Day Is Frightening’: Working For Walmart Amid Covid-19 Crisis
Enlarge this image toggle caption Chris Ratcliffe/AP Chris Ratcliffe/AP
It’s a day in Woonsocket, R.I. when the world’s largest supermarket chain holds its annual shareholders’ meeting.
In an auditorium on the third floor of the Walmart Supercenter in Woonsocket, employees have been given the choice to join an employee support group for those dealing with unemployment.
The company has been under some stress in recent weeks, with the coronavirus spreading through the United States.
“I just wanted us to know that we’re in this together,” said Amy Bledsoe, a worker at the Woonsocket branch, who is part of a Walmart team on call in case of customer illness. “I want people to know that we’re thinking of them and that we want to come out of this stronger than ever to serve you even more.”
In the auditorium, workers tell stories about struggling to make ends meet, about their children’s education and their own lack of health coverage.
Walmart said on Thursday that it had increased wages and benefits for hourly associates from $12 to $15 per hour.
The company has also canceled all unpaid leave and had all company-owned vehicles outfitted with tracking devices to make sure workers who get sick or are unable to work are not at risk for getting fired.
Those are small steps, said Robert Weissberg, professor of employment relations at the University of Chicago.
“This is just a start — an effort to help the very people that Walmart is supposed to be helping — people who are working part time or who have a lot of hours to keep,” Weissberg said.
The coronavirus outbreak, the economic troubles and the U.S. unemployment rate have put a harsh spotlight on Walmart’s operations.
While all its hourly associates earn at least $15 an hour, the company has said it has been understaffed and underpaid.
In a statement, Walmart spokesman Ron Pernick said the company has been “committed to making sure our associates who have been put on temporary leave or suspended during the Covid-19 situation can be re-hired and re-paid.”
The National Retail Federation says Wal-Mart is offering paychecks up to $50,000 for first-time U.S