...and why some others might not be.

By Tim Nelson
March 27, 2020

The widespread societal disruption caused by COVID-19 has already led to a profound, record-setting number of job losses. It only takes a quick glance at last week’s alarming spike in unemployment claims to see how bad things have gotten.

While there are definitely some ways you can help out those who are out of work due to the Coronavirus, some companies who have seen a boost in business as our lifestyles change are actually hiring. Given the enhanced risks that come with continuing to work at places like grocery stores and restaurants at a time like this, some companies are (rather justifiably) boosting the pay of their employees and staff. Here’s a running list of who they are and what they’re doing.

Chipotle, which has shifted into a takeout/delivery model like other restaurants, announced it has given all of its hourly workers a 10 percent pay increase through April 12. The pay boost will retroactively apply to hours worked from March 16 onward.

“This assistance pay is simply one of the ways that we’re expressing our appreciation for those who are willing and able to continue working during this time,” Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol told customers in an email, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. He added that “[employees] are working tirelessly prepping, cooking, and serving” during a very challenging time.

While Starbucks is closing its cafes except for drive-thru and delivery orders, those staff who are still working will see a little bit of extra pay. All store employees will get a temporary pay raise of $3 an hour from March 21 through April 19. As of March 20, Starbucks said that it will pay all of its employees for the following 30 days, regardless of whether or not conditions allowed them to report to work during that period.

Walmart, among the major retailers looking to expand their workforce to cope with increased demand, will also raise wages for its existing employees. Both store employees and fulfillment center workers will receive an extra $2 an hour, a temporary raise that will be in effect until Memorial Day (May 25). The company plans to give out $550 million in cash bonuses to hourly staff, though it’s unclear if that’s a separate effort or the company’s way of referring to these wage increases.

Other big box retailers are also giving their workers temporary pay bumps. Target will institute a similar $2 an hour raise policy as Walmart, but it only runs until May 2 (as of now, at least). BJ’s Wholesale is raising pay by the same rate for warehouse employees between March 23 and April 12. Costco employees in the U.S. will get the same $2 an hour raise, effective between March 2 and April 5.

Albertsons, the parent company of grocery store brands like Shaw’s, Star Market, Acme, Vons and Safeway, will give both its non-union and union frontline associates a $2 an hour pay increase. It will apply retroactively to March 15 through at least the end of the March 28 pay period, at which point “the company will evaluate the situation on an ongoing basis and make changes as necessary.” Evidence suggests union negotiations in Seattle and later Northern California may have helped shape this policy.

Sheetz, a hybrid restaurant and convenience store similar to Wawa, is raising pay for its employees by $3 an hour retroactive from March 13 through April 23.

DC pizza chain &pizza has decided it will pay workers an extra dollar per hour for the time being, though a length of time that this will take effect is not known.

People certainly want to keep drinking at a time like this, and Molson Coors has taken steps to boost employee compensation in the hopes that the beer can keep flowing. According to Motley Fool, the major brewer is offering its at-risk employees the chance to take paid leave for April, though maintaining only 60 percent of their regular pay. On-site workers will be given an extra $5 an hour, and salaried employees who can’t work from home will get $200 per week bonuses.

Of course, other restaurants have (unwisely) decided to move things in the opposite direction. Carrols Restaurant Group, the biggest owner of Burger King franchises in the U.S., announced it would temporarily cut employee pay by 10 percent, set to be effective March 30. But after significant backlash, CRG CEO Dan Accodino reversed course, instead temporarily forgoing his salary and reinstating full pay for employees.

That franchise-based corporate structure might explain why more fast food chains might like McDonald’s haven’t similarly bumped pay. With independent franchisee’s owning well over 90 percent of all individual McDonald’s locations in the country, it’s more difficult for the company to issue pay raises for workers, regardless of whether or not it wants to. Of course, one could deploy the cynical argument that this provides these companies an excuse not to take unilateral action.

This also speaks to the fact that more government action is likely needed beyond the current stimulus bill if the (still) underpaid workers putting themselves in harm’s way are to be fairly compensated and protected. The current stimulus’ paid leave mandate excludes almost all of the companies mentioned above, as businesses with more than 500 employees aren’t required to provide paid sick leave.

So in the end, much like states themselves, these corporations are tasked with doing the right and responsible thing by offering their employees what amounts to hazard pay. For now, whether these pay bumps are enough or if more companies will follow suit in boosting wages as the crisis deepens remains to be seen.