“Essential.” In recent months that word has taken on increased significance in societies around the world. There are essential businesses and essential employees, who are encouraged and, in some cases, even required to continue working despite the risk of coronavirus infection. As the US Department of Homeland Security puts it, “Functioning critical infrastructure is particularly important during the COVID-19 response for both public health and safety as well as community well-being. Certain critical infrastructure industries have a special responsibility to continue operations during these unprecedented times.” The Department has issued guidance for state and local governments as well as private enterprise on how to determine exactly who and what is essential, and how related operations should proceed. It has identified sixteen business sectors from healthcare to food & agriculture to communications that consist of companies and workers that may be deemed essential.
While many still-employed Americans are privileged to carry out their tasks from their own homes, legions of workers must continue to perform duties onsite and closely interact with other workers and the general public. This includes doctors, nurses, and hospital sanitation workers; firefighters, police, and paramedics; farm employees, meatpackers, and other food supply workers; bus drivers, truck drivers, train engineers, pilots, and flight attendants; grocery workers, gas station attendants, and warehouse staff. The list goes on and on and on.
A disproportionate number of low-wage workers are on the frontlines of the pandemic response effort, providing us with food, essential goods, and critical services despite the health risks. Many are earning little more than minimum wage to do their part to ensure that the American economy and society continue to function. While, unfortunately, many corporate leaders have done little or not enough to compensate these heroes for their selfless dedication and sacrifice, some business owners and executives have opened their pocketbooks for their workers.
The Connor Group
Based in Dayton, Ohio, The Connor Group owns and manages over 13,000 residential apartments throughout the United States, totaling approximately $2.5 billion in assets. On April 17, CEO and founder Larry Connor held a company video conference in which he announced to stunned employees that they would each receive a bonus of between $2,000 and $9,000. Connor had earned $1.6 million on stock market investments over the span of 8 days and decided to devote the entire windfall to his 250+ employees. Additionally the company has committed to paying all unexpected childcare expenses for employees who must look after children while schools are closed. And, if that were not enough, The Connor Group will pay full wages for employees for up to 21 days of COVID-related sick leave plus the period of time it takes to get test results. “And this will not count one iota against either sick days or vacation.”
Micron Technology, Inc.
The maker of computer memory and data storage components headquartered in Boise has announced a one-time bonus of $1,000 to all employees who earn less than $100,000 annually. That’s 2/3 of their workforce or approximately 25,000 workers, many of whom work in manufacturing facilities in Idaho, Utah, Virginia, and various locations in Asia. Additionally, the company has established a Team Member Relief Fund that will provide up to $5,000 to employees who face significant hardship due to pandemic conditions.
At a time when large corporations including Kroger and Fred Meyer are terminating short-lived hazard pay programs, Tyson Foods announced that it is doubling bonuses for its 116,000 frontline workers and truckers. Headquartered in Akransas, the corporation owns meat, poultry, and food brands include Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, and Sara Lee, among many others. The total committed is now $120 million. The company is also increasing short-term disability coverage for ill workers to 90% of normal pay through June 2020. Tyson meat processing plants around the country have suffered outbreaks of COVID-19, including employee deaths, and have been forced to temporarily shut down. On April 28, President Trump signed an executive order implementing the Defense Production Act, under which Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue may order meat and poultry producers to continue operations despite the risk to workers.
Northwell Health, New York state’s largest healthcare provider, operates 23 hospitals and more than 700 outpatient centers and other facilities. This past Friday, the Northwell system discharged its 10,000th COVID-19 patient. On April 22, President and CEO Michael Dowling announced that the nonprofit organization would provide a $2,500 bonus and one additional week of paid time off to all frontline workers. Some 45,000 of its 72,000 employees will receive the benefits, including doctors, nurses, therapists, environmental services workers, housekeepers, and even corporate employees “who went above and beyond in working behind the scenes to maintain effective operations during an unprecedented surge in patient volume.” Northwell is also expanding an array of programs “to care for the staff’s mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.”