Time for Amazon and Walmart to Do Their Fair Share
by Wendy Chun-Hoon
This morning I listened with awe to a group of frontline workers dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. None of them has the protective gear or paid sick time they need. All of them are determined to win policy changes from their employers and from the government. These are workers from Amazon and Walmart making sure the rest of us get the supplies we need to survive while sheltering in place.
I was honored to join them in a call with reporters organized by United4Respect. I represented Family Values @ Work and also Paid Leave for All, a campaign of dozens of national organizations working to win permanent, federal paid leave solutions.
This COVID-19 outbreak has brought home a truth our groups have long been naming: our nation is only as healthy as the most vulnerable among us. We cannot tell people to follow doctor’s orders if the result means falling off an economic cliff. And we cannot stop a pandemic if we force people to come to work sick.
Companies like Walmart have gotten praise from the media in recent years for expanding their paid time off policies. Yet Sanjuana, a Walmart worker in El Paso, just got a disciplinary point for taking time to get a blood infusion, even though she had a doctor’s note. “I can’t afford to lose my job,” Sanjuana said. “I can barely afford to put food on the table, much less to stock up.” After 10 years at Walmart, a company that last year gave $12 billion to its shareholders, Sequana earns $11 an hour.
Stacy, a Walmart worker in upstate New York, has tried to get her hours increased so she can qualify for health insurance. Instead, this giant corporation is hiring 150,000 temp workers.
For years, Walmart has gotten away with denying paid sick days to workers by artificially keeping the total hours down, even for those who want to work full-time and do work 40 hours many weeks. For years, the company has gotten away with punishing workers for using the time they earn, by handing out disciplinary points — standard practice in corporations across the country.
And when Walmart finally added paid leave, thanks to the terrific organizing by employees and United4Respect, the company limited that time to leave to care for a new child. They call it parental leave, but it wouldn’t apply to the leave a parent needs to care for an infant who has to have heart surgery, or an 8-year-old with cancer. And it wouldn’t help parents care for their own health or for anyone to care for their own parents or other loved ones.
Workers and Families First
Lobbyists for large corporations have worked hard to stop the commonsense solutions our network has been winning — paid sick days or paid time off laws in dozens of locations, and paid family and medical leave in 8 states and the District of Columbia. And now those same lobbyists are trying to remove the provisions for paid time that passed in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, when, in fact, those provisions need to be expanded and made permanent. At the very least, we need the economic stimulus package being debated right now by Congress to do the following when it comes to paid leave:
- Remove the exemptions on companies of 500 or more, as Rep. Pelosi’s bill calls for, and have these larger companies cover the costs themselves.
- Make sure people can use paid leave for self-care and family care as well as for quarantines and school closures.
- Ensure that workers using paid sick days to care for a sick child or other family member receive 100% wage replacement, not just two thirds.
We need large corporations to make permanent changes in their policies as well. People must be able to use the time they’ve earned without retaliation. We need equitable treatment for part-time employees. And workers have to know they can use paid sick days and paid leave to recover themselves or to care for a loved one.
It shouldn’t take a pandemic to remind us that we all have a stake in a healthy workforce and healthy families. We applaud the courage and determination of the workers at places like Walmart and Amazon, and will continue our partnership with United4Respect to keep organizing until everyone in the U.S. has affordable time to heal and to provide care.
Wendy Chun-Hoon is the executive director of Family Values @ Work, a 16 year-old organization that has been winning paid leave and sick days across the U.S.A.