More stories

  • in

    Amazon’s Clashes With Labor: Days of Conflict and Control

    Amazon was built on an underdog philosophy, but its workers are finding a voice. That presents a problem for the company that goes far beyond the union vote in Alabama.It has been Day 1 at Amazon ever since the company began more than a quarter-century ago. Day 1 is Amazon shorthand for staying hungry, making bold decisions and never forgetting about the customer. This start-up mentality — underdogs against the world — has been extremely good for Amazon’s shoppers and shareholders.Day 1 holds less appeal for some of Amazon’s employees, especially those doing the physical work in the warehouses. A growing number feel the company is pushing them past their limits and risking their health. They would like Amazon to usher in a more benign Day 2.The clash between the desire for Day 1 and Day 2 has been unfolding in Alabama, where Amazon warehouse workers in the community of Bessemer have voted on whether to form a union. Government labor regulators are getting ready to sort through the votes in the closely watched election. A result may come as soon as this week. If the union gains a foothold, it will be the first in the company’s history.Attention has been focused on Bessemer, but the struggle between Day 1 and Day 2 is increasingly playing out everywhere in Amazon’s world. At its heart, the conflict is about control. To maintain Day 1, the company needs to lower labor costs and increase productivity, which requires measuring and tweaking every moment of a worker’s existence.That kind of control is at the heart of the Amazon enterprise. The idea of surrendering it is the company’s greatest horror. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, wrote in his 2016 shareholder letter: “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”For many years, Amazon has managed to maintain control and keep Day 1 going by dazzling with delivery and counted on the media, regulators and politicians to ignore everything unpleasant. The few stories about workers rarely got traction.But it is now the second-largest private employer in the country. There is widespread pro-worker sentiment in the United States and a pro-union president. In Bessemer, many of the pro-union workers are Black, which makes this a civil rights story as well.Amazon needs to measure and tweak every moment of a worker’s existence to maintain its edge, but it is facing more pushback against its control.Bob Miller for The New York TimesSo the costs associated with Day 1 are finally coming into view. And it is showing up not only in Alabama, but in the form of lawsuits, restive workers at other warehouses, Congressional oversight, scrutiny from labor regulators and, most noisily, on Twitter.In recent weeks, a heated discussion about whether Amazon’s workers must urinate in bottles because they have no time to go to the bathroom — a level of control that few modern corporations would dare exercise — has raged on Twitter.“Amazon is reorganizing the very nature of retail work — something that traditionally is physically undemanding and has a large amount of downtime — into something more akin to a factory, which never lets up,” said Spencer Cox, a former Amazon worker who is writing his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Minnesota about how the company is transforming labor. “For Amazon, this isn’t about money. This is about control of workers’ bodies and every possible moment of their time.”Amazon did not have a comment for this story.Signs that Amazon is facing more pushback against its control have started to pile up. In February, Lovenia Scott, a former warehouse worker for the company in Vacaville, Calif., accused Amazon in a lawsuit of having such an “immense volume of work to be completed” that she and her colleagues did not get any breaks. Ms. Scott is seeking class-action status. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on the suit.Last month, the California Labor Commissioner said 718 delivery drivers who worked for Green Messengers, a Southern California contractor for Amazon, were owed $5 million in wages that never made it to their wallets. The drivers were paid for 10-hour days, the labor commissioner said, but the volume of packages was so great that they often had to work 11 or more hours and through breaks.Amazon said it no longer worked with Green Messengers and would appeal the decision. Green Messengers could not be reached for comment.An Amazon warehouse in the Canadian province of Ontario showed rapid spread of Covid-19 in March. “Our investigation determined a closure was required to break the chain of transmission,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, the regional medical officer. “We provided our recommendation to Amazon.” The company, he said, “did not answer.” The health officials ordered the workers to self-isolate, effectively shutting the facility for two weeks. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on the situation.And five U.S. senators wrote a letter to the company last month demanding more information about why it was equipping its delivery vans with surveillance cameras that constantly monitor the driver. The technology, the senators wrote, “raises important privacy and worker oversight questions Amazon must answer.”Amazon has presented a different opinion of what Day 1 means for workers. The first thing it mentions in its official statement on Bessemer is the starting pay of $15.30 per hour, double the federal minimum wage.Mr. Cox, who worked in an Amazon warehouse in Washington state, said the higher pay has paradoxically fueled the discontent. The pay “is better than working at a gas station, so people naturally want to keep these jobs,” he said. “That’s why they want them to be fair. I saw a lot of depression and anxiety when I worked for Amazon.”(Mr. Cox said he was fired by Amazon in 2018 for organizing. Amazon told him he had violated safety protocol).The confrontation between Day 1 and Day 2 has been sharpest over bladders.The topic erupted last month when Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, tweeted at the company, “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”Amazon’s social media account fired back: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”This isn’t the way corporations usually talk to members of Congress, even on Twitter. On Friday, after days of being pummeled on the issue, Amazon apologized to Representative Pocan, saying: “The tweet was incorrect. It did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers.” Amazon blamed Covid and “traffic,” not its punishing schedules.Representative Pocan responded on Saturday with a sigh. “This is not about me, this is about your workers — who you don’t treat with enough respect or dignity,” he wrote.The bathroom question is one on which the company has long been vulnerable. Enforcement files from regulators in Amazon’s home state of Washington indicate that questions about whether the company had an appropriate number of bathrooms in its Seattle headquarters have arisen over the past dozen years.The company has “insufficient lavatory facilities for male employees” according to a 2012 complaint received by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries. “Employees routinely traverse multiple buildings in search of available facilities.”A 2014 complaint filed by an Amazon employee to the same department said employees got 12 minutes a day for “bathroom, getting water, personal calls, etc.” outside of normally scheduled breaks. Those who needed further toilet time had to provide a doctor’s note “explaining why the need to void more than usual.”The complaints went beyond Amazon’s white-collar offices. A warehouse worker told Labor and Industries in 2009 that a manager and a human resources representative had told her that “there would be disciplinary action against me if I continue to use the bathroom on company time” — she meant unscheduled breaks. The employee added that the H.R. representative told her that “it was not fair to the company that I was getting paid when I’m not working because I’m in the bathroom.”Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. Some employees have filed bathroom-related complaints, including saying some of the offices have too few restrooms.Miles Fortune for The New York TimesAmazon did not respond to questions about the enforcement reports. A spokesman for the Department of Labor and Industries declined to comment, except to note that outside of Amazon, “We really don’t get a lot of bathroom-related complaints.”Other technology companies have prided themselves on overriding mere bodily needs. Marissa Mayer, an early Google employee, attributed the search company’s success to working 130 hours a week — entirely possible, she said in a 2016 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, “if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom.”When Google was a start-up, the notion was that you gave up everything — family, sleep, diversion — so you might become successful and rich. But former workers at Amazon warehouses said that under the Day 1 philosophy, they suffered merely to stay employed.“I believe many employees have indirectly lost their job for going to the bathroom. You’re like, can I hold it to break time?” said John Burgett, who blogged for several years about working in an Amazon warehouse in Indiana.His conclusion on his last entry, in 2016: Amazon was “testing the limits of human beings as a technical tool.” More

  • in

    Organizing Gravediggers, Cereal Makers and, Maybe, Amazon Employees

    A group of gravediggers in Columbus, Ohio, who just negotiated a 3 percent raise. The poultry plant that processes chicken nuggets for McDonald’s. The workers who make Cap’n Crunch in Iowa. The women’s shoe department at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is not the largest labor union in the United States, but it may be one of the most eclectic. Its membership, totaling about 100,000 workers, seems to reach into every conceivable corner of the American economy, stretching from the cradle (they make Gerber baby food) to the grave (those cemetery workers in Columbus).And now it is potentially on the cusp of breaking into Amazon, one of the world’s most dominant companies, which since its founding has beaten back every attempt to organize any part of its massive work force in the United States.This month, a group of 5,800 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are voting whether to join the R.W.D.S.U. It is the first large-scale union vote in Amazon’s history, and a decision by the workers to organize would have implications for the labor movement across the country, especially as retail giants like Amazon and Walmart have gained power — and added workers — during the pandemic.The Amazon campaign, said Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president, “is about the future of work and how working people are going to be treated in the new economy.”For some labor activists, the union and its early success at the Bessemer warehouse represent the vanguard of the modern organizing campaigns. It is outspoken on social issues and savvy on social media — posting a TikTok video of support from the rapper Killer Mike and tweeting an endorsement from the National Football League Players Association during the Super Bowl.“It’s a bit of an odd-duck union,” said Joshua Freeman, a professor emeritus of labor history at Queens College at the City University of New York. “They keep morphing over the years and have been very inventive in their tactics.”The union is also racially, geographically and politically diverse. Founded during a heyday of organized labor in New York City in 1937 — and perhaps best known for representing workers at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s — most of its members are now employed in right-to-work states, across the South and rural Midwest.Workers lowering a lid onto a vault at Union Cemetery in Columbus. Their organization is known as “a bit of an odd-duck union” for the variety of industries it covers.Brian Kaiser for The New York TimesLou Willis, operating a backhoe at the cemetery.Brian Kaiser for The New York TimesBrian Kaiser for The New York TimesWhile the union’s overall membership has stagnated over the past decade, the number of members in its Mid-South office, which includes Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana, has nearly doubled, to about 9,000 from 4,700 in 2011, driven by aggressive recruitment efforts in the poultry, warehouse and health care industries. More than half of its members across the country are workers of color.In the Mid-South office, which is leading the organizing at Amazon, local officials begin almost every meeting with a prayer, lean in favor of gun rights and say about half their members supported Donald J. Trump’s re-election bid. (Unlike the national union, which publicly backed President Biden, the southern office did not issue an endorsement of either candidate.)“We are known as the church union,” said Randy Hadley, president of the Mid-South Council. “We put God first, family second and then our jobs.”The retail and wholesale workers union is run nationally by Mr. Appelbaum, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Democratic Party operative from Hartford, Conn., who has written about his identity as a gay, Jewish labor leader.Since becoming union president in 1998, Mr. Appelbaum has created a niche by organizing workers from a wide variety of professions: airline caterers, employees in fast fashion stores and gardeners at a cannabis grow house. “When you buy a joint, look for the union label,” Mr. Appelbaum said jokingly.Stuart Appelbaum, the union president, in 2016. The Amazon effort, he said, “is about the future of work and how working people are going to be treated in the new economy.”Christian Hansen for The New York TimesThe strategy has helped the union to keep flourishing, even as its core work force in brick-and-mortar retail stores continues to shrink as shopping moves online.The union often ties its organizing campaigns to the broader struggle to advance the rights of vulnerable workers, such as the predominately gay, lesbian, trans and nonbinary employees in sex toy shops in New York and undocumented immigrants working in the city’s carwashes.After World War II, the union advocated for Black servicemen who were being shut out of jobs at Macy’s, which paid the highest commissions. “It has a history of being a militant, feisty, left-wing crowd,” Professor Freeman said.Even the Alabama office, which leans further to the right on some issues, has stood up for workers in ways that are locally unpopular.Mr. Hadley said one of his biggest accomplishments was negotiating a paid holiday on Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, at a Tyson poultry plant in Tennessee, where a large number of Somali immigrants work.“We had Muslims in the facility, they said, ‘We look at that day like Christmas,’ and I thought, ‘Who am I to judge?’” recalled Mr. Hadley, a former meat cutter. “I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”The president of the union’s Mid-South Council, Randy Hadley, back row, center right, with other leaders and staff in Birmingham, Ala. The Mid-South office is leading the organizing at Amazon.Retail, Wholesale and Department Store UnionRatified in 2008, the Muslim holiday took the place of Labor Day as one of the paid holidays that workers were allowed at the facility, and was criticized by some as being un-American.Over the years, the union has faced some powerful enemies. In the 1960s, its Black organizers were threatened — one was even shot at — while trying to sign up food industry workers across the South.Johnny Whitaker, a former dairy worker who started as a union organizer in the 1970s, said he had grown up in a white family in Hanceville, Ala., without much money. Still, he was shocked by the working conditions and racism he witnessed when he started organizing in the poultry plants years ago.Black workers were classified differently from their white counterparts and paid much less. Women were expected to engage in sexual acts with managers in exchange for more hours, he said. Many workers could not read or write.Despite threats that they would lose their jobs if they organized, thousands of poultry workers have joined the R.W.D.S.U. over the past three decades, though the industry still is predominantly nonunion.Roberto Cuellar, a union member and flight coordinator at Flying Food Group, an airline caterer whose workers are represented by the R.W.D.S.U.Meghan Marin for The New York TimesMr. Cuellar checked meals at Kennedy International Airport before a flight.Meghan Marin for The New York TimesMeghan Marin for The New York TimesWhen a small group of Amazon workers contacted the union in late August about their interest in organizing the Bessemer warehouse, Mr. Whitaker acknowledged, “there was a lot of doubt” internally about the idea.The R.W.D.S.U. had tried to lay the groundwork for organizing Amazon’s warehouse in Staten Island in 2019, but the effort failed when the company pulled the plug on its plans to build a second headquarters in New York, known as HQ2, partly because of political pressure to allow organizing at its facilities.“What we learned from HQ2 was that Amazon was going to do anything it possibly could to avoid having a union at any of its workplaces,” Mr. Appelbaum said.At the time, Amazon said it canceled its plans after “a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project.”But the more the workers in Alabama kept talking to the union about their working conditions, the more Mr. Appelbaum and others believed the warehouse was fertile ground for organizing.The employee cafeteria at Flying Food Group.Meghan Marin for The New York TimesThe workers described the control that Amazon exerts over their work lives, including tracking their time in the restroom or other time spent away from their primary task in the warehouse. Some workers have said they can be penalized for taking too much time away from their specific assignments.“We are talking about bathroom breaks,” said Mr. Whitaker, an executive vice president at the union. “It’s the year 2021 and workers are being penalized for taking a pee.”In an email, an Amazon spokeswoman said the company does not penalize workers for taking bathroom breaks. “Those are not our policies,” she said. “People can take bathroom breaks.”The campaign in Bessemer has created some strange political bedfellows. Mr. Biden expressed his support for the Alabama workers to vote freely in the mail-in election, which ends later this month. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida went even further, encouraging the Bessemer workers to unionize in order to protect themselves against the “woke culture” at Amazon.A greenhouse in the PharmaCann facility near Montgomery, N.Y. The company grows cannabis for medical use in several states; the R.W.D.S.U. has organized workers there.David Steinberg for The New York TimesMark Etri Jr. assembling cartridges.David Steinberg for The New York TimesLiz Ferran tending to plants.David Steinberg for The New York TimesIf the union wins the election in Bessemer, the effort to court workers will continue. In a right-to-work state, workers are not required to pay union dues even if they are represented by a union.At a Quaker Oats plant in Iowa, which is also a right-to-work state, the R.W.D.S.U. finds ways to motivate workers to join the union by posting the names of workers who have not yet joined on a bulletin board.“In a right-to-work state, you are always organizing,” Mr. Hadley said.Early in the afternoon of Oct. 20, Mr. Hadley met with about 20 organizers before they headed out to the Bessemer warehouse to begin their campaign to sign up workers. The plan was for the organizers to stand at the warehouse gates talking to workers early in the morning and in the evening when their shift changes. In a pep talk with the group, Mr. Hadley invoked the story of David and Goliath.“We are going to hit Goliath in the nose every day, twice a day,” he told the group, referring to Amazon. “He’s going to see our union every morning when he comes to work, and I want him thinking about us when he closes his eyes at night.” More

  • in

    Amazon Labor Fight: Wages May Not Ward Off Union

    Recent organizing campaigns in the South suggest the company’s wage scale may have left it vulnerable to a union.In making the case against a union at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., Amazon has touted its compensation package. The company notes that base pay at the facility, around $15.50 an hour for most rank-and-file workers, is more than twice the local minimum wage, and that it offers comprehensive health insurance and retirement benefits.But to many of Amazon’s Bessemer employees, who are voting this month on whether to unionize, the claims to generosity can ring hollow alongside the demands of the job and local wage rates. The most recent figure for the median wage in greater Birmingham, a metropolitan area of roughly one million people that includes Bessemer, was nearly $3 above Amazon’s pay there, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.“If you go into certain rural areas in the South, where wages are suppressed and there’s no industry, that may seem attractive,” said Joshua Brewer of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, who is the campaign’s lead organizer. “For our folks here in Bessemer and Birmingham, it’s barely enough to keep the lights on. To tote it in front of them like it’s something to be prized is mildly offensive.”It is common for employers facing a union vote to emphasize the generosity of their wages and to suggest that workers could be worse off if they unionize. But the message takes on added resonance in the South, where incomes are lower and jobs with good pay can be harder to find. As a result, organizers say, employers and their surrogates in the region often use such tactics more aggressively.A commercial during a 2017 union campaign at a Boeing plant in South Carolina showed a casino boss urging workers to roll dice at a craps table to make the point that joining a union could put their livelihood at risk. Union campaigns at a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., and a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., featured similar appeals.The catch is that wages at these plants tended to be substantially higher than the typical wage in their areas, reinforcing workers’ sense that they had something valuable to lose.Veteran production workers made $23.50 an hour at the Volkswagen plant in 2019, the year of the most recent campaign there. The comparable figure was $23 at Boeing’s South Carolina facility when workers voted on a union and $26 at Nissan’s Mississippi plant during the vote there, also in 2017. The union lost in all three cases.“The global manufacturing companies took more steps to pre-empt unionization by offering better pay,” Richard Bensinger, a former organizing director for the United Automobile Workers and the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in an email.Mr. Bensinger, who was involved in the Nissan and Volkswagen campaigns and is helping workers organize at other Amazon facilities, held up Mercedes-Benz as a telling example. The U.A.W. tried to organize the company’s plant in Vance, Ala., about 25 miles from Bessemer, for several years during the last decade. But it could never quite get a majority of workers to sign cards, Mr. Bensinger said, partly because wages at the plant were so high — $28 an hour for veteran workers, and even more today.“They paid U.A.W. scale to try to keep the U.A.W. out,” Mr. Bensinger said. (Mercedes, like other automakers, also used temporary workers whom it paid far less.)By contrast, unions have been successful when companies have held down wages. During the first half the 2010s, workers unionized at several auto parts suppliers in Alabama and elsewhere in the South, often citing low pay and benefits as the impetus.In 2015, employees at Commercial Vehicle Group in Piedmont, Ala., which made seats for trucks, voted to join the U.A.W. by a roughly two-to-one ratio. Workers at the plant complained of wages that started as low as $9.70 an hour for temporary workers and topped out at $15.80 for full-time employees. The company laid off many of the workers when it later consolidated its operations.“Workers always say this: It’s about respect, recognition,” said Gary Casteel, the U.A.W.’s former second-ranking official, who helped oversee much of its organizing in the South. “That’s not the case. It is about the money. Everybody wants to get paid more.”Darryl Richardson, an Amazon worker in Alabama, has seen the power of a union to raise wages.Lynsey Weatherspoon for The New York TimesDarryl Richardson, an Amazon employee in Alabama, knows firsthand the catalyzing effect of low wages. In 2012, he was part of a group of workers that voted overwhelmingly to unionize at Faurecia Interior Systems in Cottondale, Ala., which made seats for the nearby Mercedes plant.Mr. Richardson said that he had made around $12.50 an hour when he started at the plant but that, thanks to the union, his hourly pay had nearly doubled by the time he left in 2019, after the plant lost its contract with Mercedes. He said several of his co-workers at Faurecia were now working at Amazon and had seen the power of a union to raise wages.“From Faurecia to Amazon, it’s a big pay difference,” said Mr. Richardson, who now makes $15.55.Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said that workers in Bessemer were eligible for raises every six months and that they had received a $2-an-hour bonus during much of last spring. Full-time rank-and-file employees received $300 bonuses during the holiday season and $500 last June. The company also provides significant tuition reimbursement for employees who take classes in certain fields.Some workers at the Bessemer facility, which opened just as Covid-19 was bearing down last March, regard the pay as more than adequate, especially younger employees.“I feel like it is fair,” said Roderick Crocton, 24, who previously made $11.25 as an overnight stocker at a local retailer. “In my old job, I lived in my apartment, never got to go anywhere, paid my bills. Today I’m able to go out and experience being in the city.”But other workers emphasize that pay at Amazon isn’t particularly high for the Birmingham area, even if the pandemic has reduced their job options. An Amazon employee named Clint, a union backer who declined to give his last name for fear of retaliation, said he had stood to make about $40,000 a year installing satellite dishes before the pandemic left him unemployed. He said he made his finances work partly by living with his mother.The retail workers’ union said it represented employees at nearby warehouses where pay is $18 to $21 an hour, including an ice cream facility and a grocery warehouse not far from Amazon.At a plant owned by NFI Group, a Canadian bus manufacturer, about an hour east of Birmingham, hourly pay for rank-and-file workers ranges from $14.79 to $23.31, according to the company.A survey of about 100 workers at the NFI plant by Emily Erickson, a professor at Alabama A&M University, found that white workers earned about $3 an hour more than Black workers on average. One former employee who currently works for a labor group in the area, Charles Crooms, said this made it more difficult to persuade white workers to join a union organizing effort. (The company said all employees with the same job grade and tenure were paid the same.)Workers and organizers said the dissatisfaction over wages at the Amazon warehouse was heightened by the vast wealth of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder.The Amazon warehouse in Bessemer opened just as Covid-19 was bearing down last March.Bob Miller for The New York Times“He’s one of the richest men in the world, yet you treat employees like scavengers,” said Jennifer Bates, an Amazon employee who earned more in her previous job at a pipe factory but joined Amazon hoping it would provide an opportunity to grow.Ms. Bates was mystified that the company was urging Congress to match its pay efforts by raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. “It looks to me like Amazon is admitting it’s only paying a minimum wage, and this is not a minimum-wage job,” she said. Amazon has said its starting wage is higher than $15 an hour in most of the country.Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the retail workers’ union, noted that Mr. Bezos could have given each of Amazon’s more than one million global employees last year a bonus larger than the annual pay of a warehouse worker just from the wealth he accumulated during the pandemic.All of which raises a question: Why didn’t Amazon, which regards unions as a threat, follow the example of Nissan and Mercedes and pay its Alabama employees more as a way to pre-empt a union?The company did not respond to a request to address that question.Mr. Appelbaum, the union president, said the company had underestimated its workers.“I think they took it for granted that we’d be out there for a few days leafleting, then go away,” he said. “They didn’t believe there was any possibility that we’d be able to get enough cards from employees to get to an election.” More

  • in

    When Amazon Raises Wages, Local Companies Follow Suit

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Jobs CrisisCurrent Unemployment RateWhen the Checks Run OutThe Economy in 9 ChartsThe First 6 MonthsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyWhen Amazon Raises Wages, Local Companies Follow SuitNew research suggests that when big companies increase wages, they drive up pay in the places where they operate — without a notable loss in jobs.An Amazon fulfillment center in Kent, Wash. The company lifted starting pay to $15 an hour three years ago.Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York TimesBen Casselman and March 5, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETAmazon has embarked on an advertising blitz this winter, urging Congress to follow the company’s lead and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. American workers “simply can’t wait” for higher pay, the company said in a recent blog post.In the areas where Amazon operates, though, low-wage workers at other businesses have seen significant wage growth since 2018, beyond what they otherwise might have expected, and not because of new minimum-wage laws. The gains are a direct result of Amazon’s corporate decision to increase starting pay to $15 an hour three years ago, which appears to have lifted pay for low-wage workers in other local companies as well, according to new research from economists at the University of California, Berkeley, and Brandeis University.The findings have broad implications for the battle over the federal minimum wage, which has stayed at $7.25 an hour for more than a decade, and which Democrats are trying to raise to $15 by 2025. For one, the research illustrates how difficult it can be for low-wage workers to command higher pay in the modern American economy — until a powerful outside actor, like a large employer or a government, intervenes.Most directly, there is little evidence in the paper that raising the minimum wage would lead to significant job loss, even in low-cost rural areas, a finding consistent with several recent studies. Other research, including a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office, has found a larger negative effect on jobs, although still smaller than many economists believed in the past.The authors of the latest study — Ellora Derenoncourt of Berkeley and Clemens Noelke and David Weil of Brandeis — studied Amazon, Walmart and Target, which operate in areas where wages tend to be low. But even in those places, the researchers found, wage increases by the large corporate employers appear to drive up wages without driving down employment.“When you have major changes in the wage policies of large actors in the labor market, this has ripple effects,” Dr. Derenoncourt said in an interview.At the same time, Dr. Weil added, “the sky doesn’t fall.”The researchers used the federal government’s Current Population Survey, supplemented by evidence from the online job posting site Glassdoor, to estimate what happened in communities where Amazon, Target or Walmart operate after those companies increased entry-level wages in recent years. What they found in many ways confounds traditional economic models: Raising pay did not put the large companies at a disadvantage. Instead, it gave local workers a reason to push their own employers for a raise.At Mooyah Burgers, Fries and Shakes, a chain with 87 locations in 21 states, the Amazon effect is clear. Employees routinely go to their managers and point out that Amazon is hiring at a significant pay increase.“When you have those corporations paying that much, it just puts pressure on the smaller business owners,” said Tony Darden, Mooyah’s president. Franchisees can try to have good relationships with their employees, he said, but there is only so far that can go.“At some point, it always comes down to money,” he said. “And so if there’s an employee who has the ability to make two or three or four or five bucks an hour more at another location, they go directly to the owner or to their manager.”Many restaurants will grant the pay increase, Mr. Darden said, but at the cost of giving workers fewer hours or hiring fewer employees — a common contention among small-business owners. But while that may be true in individual cases, the Berkeley and Brandeis researchers found little evidence of broad-based job cuts as wages rose. A 10 percent increase in the base wage at a company like Amazon, they found, translated into a 1.7 percent loss in local jobs — and a 0.4 percent loss in jobs for low-wage workers.On raising wages, an Amazon executive said, “We knew that by doing it, we would encourage other employers to do the same.”Credit…Gabriella Demczuk for The New York TimesA mounting body of research in recent years suggests that labor markets don’t work in practice the way they do in some economic models. Employees often have less information about their worth than employers, or face greater risks to changing jobs, or can’t readily move between employers the way a pure market assumes. These “frictions,” in economic jargon, often benefit employers over employees, pushing down wages below where supply and demand suggest they should be.But that leaves room for other forces — in the form of political pressure, organized bargaining or a minimum wage — to push wages up.“In a very simple supply-and-demand, competitive market, firms are just paying the market wage,” said Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts economist who has studied the minimum wage. In reality, he said, wages “are shaped by market forces but also by norms, pressure as well as policies.”Dr. Dube said that in the 1980s, the spread of Walmart and other national retailers helped push down wages, as they displaced smaller, often unionized local chains. Now big national retailers seem to be helping to push wages up.Many small-business owners do not welcome the pressure.Tad Mollnhauer, who runs two printing and shipping retail stores near Orlando, Fla., said entry-level workers typically earned about $10 to $12 an hour. But these days, anyone paying that rate risks losing workers to Amazon. (The state’s minimum wage is under $9 an hour but will rise to $10 this year under a referendum approved by voters in November. The minimum will rise a dollar a year after that, hitting $15 an hour in 2026.)Mr. Mollnhauer said it was hard for small companies like his to match Amazon’s pay.“Their network and their resources are spread out around the country,” allowing Amazon to pay above-market wages in some places, he said. “For me, as two stores, I can’t do that.”Jay Carney, a senior vice president for Amazon, said the company was conscious of the impact its policy might have on other employers. “We knew that by doing it, we would encourage other employers to do the same, and if that happened then it would put upward pressure on wages in general, which would be good,” he said.But he rejected suggestions that Amazon is using its political power to hurt its rivals. “We have no power to force anybody to do this, only Congress does,” he said.Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said the paper showed both the potential spillover effects for workers from raising the federal minimum wage — which studies suggest would help workers who earn more than the minimum also get raises — and the limits of private company efforts.“There’s just no way to be sure to reach the tens of millions of hardworking but poorly paid workers without significantly raising the national minimum wage,” he said.No Republican senator supports the $15-an-hour bill that Amazon has endorsed, and several Democrats have reservations about it. Given those headwinds and an adverse ruling from the Senate parliamentarian, the provision will almost certainly not make it into the final version of President Biden’s relief package.But the researchers’ findings suggest that there are other ways to raise pay for low-wage workers. Political pressure on big companies can lift pay not just for their direct employees but also for other workers in the same area. Other policies could mimic that effect: If the federal government requires its contractors to pay more, as Mr. Biden has directed by executive order, it could help increase wages throughout the private sector.Many people are skeptical of Amazon’s motives in pushing the federal $15-an-hour effort, noting that the company faces scrutiny from Democrats over its treatment of workers, accusations that it has stifled competition and its moves to fight unionization.Other business groups accused Amazon of using its scale and political influence to squeeze smaller competitors.A Walmart in Charlottesville, Va. Minimum-wage increases in major cities have spread to other areas through companies like Walmart.Credit…Eze Amos for The New York Times“Amazon is clearly doing very well in the current economy,” said Misty Chally, executive director of the Coalition of Franchisee Associations, which represents franchise owners. But gyms, hair salons and many other businesses that compete with Amazon are “all struggling to stay in business right now,” she said.Mr. Dube said he had concerns about the power of companies like Amazon and Walmart. But the upward pressure they put on wages, he said, wasn’t one of them.The “Amazon effect” on wages comes as no surprise to organizers of the Fight for $15 campaign. From its start in 2012, the movement sought to put pressure on private employers, not just elected officials.The two fed each other, said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has backed the campaign: Minimum-wage increases in big cities encouraged companies like Walmart and Target to raise pay nationwide, which in turn prompted more minimum-wage increases and helped fuel the effort to raise the federal wage floor.Policies like Amazon’s are particularly significant in places where the minimum-wage argument has never gained much of a foothold, like the South.“It shifts the politics of minimum wage in those corners of the country,” Ms. Henry said. “It busts the myth it can’t happen here.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    The Jobs the Pandemic May Devastate

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesVaccine RolloutSee Your Local RiskNew Variants TrackerAdvertisementContinue reading the main storyUpshotSupported byContinue reading the main storyThe Jobs the Pandemic May DevastateAn updated forecast by the Bureau of Labor Statistics has alarming news for people with a high school diploma or less.The 10 occupations with the largest projected declines relative to the baseline estimates include restaurant work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York TimesFeb. 22, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETProjecting how many people will work in hundreds of detailed occupations in 2029 is a bold exercise — even without the uncertainty of the pandemic.But labor experts within the U.S. government try to do just that. And their latest assessment of which jobs will grow over the next decade has alarming implications for jobs requiring less education — while also forecasting a boom for epidemiologists and other health-science jobs.That assessment, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, emphasizes all the uncertainty that accompanies projections, and it stresses that these are estimates of structural changes, not forecasts of cyclical booms and busts. Long-term projections are often wrong, especially for more volatile sectors like mining and construction, but the agency’s estimates are typically well reasoned and sober.The original B.L.S. projections, made last year without taking pandemic effects into account, called for cumulative economywide job growth of 3.7 percent from 2019 to 2029. The new pandemic-informed projections cut that to 2.9 percent in the “moderate impact” pandemic outlook and 1.9 percent in the “strong impact” one.Both of these new outlooks assume more remote work and higher demand for relevant technology services; less in-person entertainment and travel; and more investment in public health than would have happened without the pandemic.In the “strong impact” projection, there would be 25 percent more epidemiologists in 2029 than the original baseline projection for 2029, the largest increase among nearly 800 detailed occupations. The 10 occupations with the biggest increase in projected employment relative to the baseline projection are all in medical, health-science and technology fields. The 10 occupations with the largest declines relative to the baseline projection include restaurant, hotel and transportation jobs.
    [embedded content]On balance, the new projections modestly speed up the occupational shifts from the original baseline projections. For instance, the pandemic is poised to accelerate the originally projected fast growth in software developer jobs, and to hasten a previously expected decline in cashier jobs.The projected employment changes because of the pandemic are concentrated in a relatively small number of sectors. Three-quarters of all jobs are in occupations where projected employment in the strong-impact scenario differs from the original baseline scenario by less than 2 percent.For the most part, the sectors originally projected to grow fastest over the next decade in the baseline projection — like nurse practitioners, home health aides and many other health care occupations — are still projected to grow fastest.The Coronavirus Outbreak More

  • in

    How a Minimum-Wage Increase Is Being Felt in a Low-Wage City

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Jobs CrisisCurrent Unemployment RateWhen the Checks Run OutThe Economy in 9 ChartsThe First 6 MonthsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyHow a Minimum-Wage Increase Is Being Felt in a Low-Wage CityIs $15 an hour too much, or not enough? Fresno, Calif., may be a laboratory for a debate over the minimum wage that is heating up on the national level.Elsa Rodriguez Killion, a Fresno restaurant owner, worries that California’s rising minimum wage will force her to cut jobs.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney for The New York TimesFeb. 14, 2021, 5:05 p.m. ETEven before the pandemic, Elsa Rodriguez Killion realized that Casa Corona, her restaurant in Fresno, Calif., was going to have to change with the times.She spent money on digital marketing. She invested in technology that enabled online orders, for dishes like the restaurant’s signature chile verde. And there was something else she had to keep up with: California’s rising minimum wage.The minimum rose to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, the fifth annual increase under a 2016 law. It is set to reach $15 for most employers by next year. With price increases, Ms. Rodriguez Killion was able to absorb some of the added payroll expense. But she also cut more than 20 percent of the 160 jobs at her restaurant’s two locations in the last five years, not including those lost because of the pandemic.“Every year we have had to make hard decisions to let labor go,” said Ms. Rodriguez Killion, 47, who opened Casa Corona with her brother and sister more than 20 years ago. She worries that paring more of her work force is inevitable.On the flip side of her anxiety is the measurable difference felt by some Fresno workers, even if the higher pay is still often not enough to live comfortably.“It helps tremendously,” said Elisabeth Parra, 25, a Walmart cashier who lives with her mother. Since her pay rose to the $14 minimum last month, she said, “I’m able to help my mom more with bills.”Fresno may be a laboratory for a debate that is heating up on the national level. President Biden wants to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, from the current $7.25, achieving a longstanding priority of the labor movement and the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.For now, at least, such a provision is part of Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. House Democrats, who voted in 2019 for a $15 minimum wage, intend to do so again when they send the pandemic legislation to the Senate. But chances there are clouded by parliamentary questions — and the objections of two key Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, along with Republicans.Backers have long said that increasing the minimum wage would raise the living standard of workers and help combat poverty. With more money, workers would be inclined to spend more, strengthening the economy.Opponents contend that minimum-wage increases cost jobs, particularly in struggling cities like Fresno. What’s more, they say, any broad standard, whether statewide or nationwide, does not account for local variations in the cost of living or business conditions.According to a study by the Congressional Budget Office, raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would decrease employment by 1.4 million — but it would still raise 900,000 people out of poverty. The report’s conclusions were wielded by both proponents and foes of the $15 proposal.The pandemic-induced downturn has raised the stakes. Those favoring a minimum-wage increase say it is more essential than ever, especially since sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, including leisure and hospitality, have a higher proportion of low-wage workers. Critics counter that lifting the wage floor would severely harm small businesses trying to bounce back.“This is the debate that usually takes place in some academic circles,” said Antonio Avalos, the chairman of the economics department at California State University, Fresno. But the experience of Fresno, an inland city of 500,000 isolated geographically and economically from coastal metropolises like San Francisco and Los Angeles, underscores the core tension between the competing economic arguments.Fresno is the hub of an agriculture-rich area, with produce that includes almonds, pistachios, oranges and grapes. Its economy is tied directly to the agriculture industry, though its location has also made it a draw for warehouses. In recent years, Amazon and the beauty emporium Ulta Beauty both opened sprawling fulfillment centers there.Fresno’s economy is tied to agriculture, but its location has also drawn warehouses, including an Amazon distribution center.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney for The New York TimesFresno County, where more than half of the population identifies as Hispanic, has one of the state’s highest poverty rates, and one of its lowest median wages. The typical local worker in 2019, the last year for which data is available, made under $17 an hour. A quarter of workers made $12.50. Before California enacted gradual increases under its 2016 law, the minimum wage was $10, a level typical for fast-food jobs and other low-wage occupations.Some Fresno business owners saw little impact from the raises.Arthur Moye, who owns Full Circle Brewing Company, a craft brewery, has not had to reduce his staff because the wage increases had been “a slow roll,” he said. Instead, he has adjusted both the pay and the work. “We might increase expectations on the people that are here earning that higher wage,” devoting more scrutiny to job candidates and doing more to develop those they hire, he said.But others, especially restaurant owners like Ms. Rodriguez Killion, say costs are becoming untenable, especially as they contend with the pandemic’s impact.A 2019 study by the University of California, Riverside, funded by the California Restaurant Association, a trade group, found evidence that the rising minimum wage was slowing growth in the state’s restaurant industry.Kris Stuebner, an executive at Jem Restaurant Management Corporation, which operates KFC and Wendy’s franchises in Fresno, said the wage mandate had been particularly tough for restaurant operators like him, who have to allocate a percentage of their profits to things like franchise royalties and advertising fees.He has not reduced his work force, he said. But to offset the rising labor costs, he said, he has had to raise prices and look for places to save money. He formed an internal maintenance department because he could no longer afford to pay an outside company to fix issues like plumbing.“It’s this balancing act — you’ve got all these balls in the air to juggle,” he said.Several employers questioned the logic of applying a statewide minimum wage in a place like Fresno, where the cost of living is much lower than in coastal cities. In voices tinged with resentment, some describe the rising minimum wage as akin to a “payroll tax grab” by the government because payroll taxes for employers are tied to employees’ wages and rise when wages do.Some business owners also noted that they had had to raise wages for employees already making more than the minimum to keep the pay scale fair. And some mentioned indirect results: When the minimum wage increases, the price of other things, from gas to cleaning linens to produce, increases as well.Yet hiring has continued. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, restaurant employment in Fresno rose by about 7 percent from the end of 2016 to the end of 2019, before the pandemic — a slightly higher rate than in California as a whole.The minimum-wage law allows the governor to delay a planned increase for a year if the economy weakens. With the pandemic gutting their industry, restaurant owners in Fresno and elsewhere urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to do so.When he didn’t, some owners were outraged.“It’s frustrating as can be,” said Chuck Van Fleet, the owner of Vino Grille & Spirits and the president of the Fresno chapter of the California Restaurant Association. “You’ve got somebody who’s out there saying, ‘Hey, I’m trying to do what’s right for everybody.’ And the only thing he wants to do is increase wages.”At the same time, the wage increases in California have offered hope to some workers in Fresno, whose incomes have grown.Ms. Parra, the Walmart cashier, has lived almost her whole life in Fresno. She recently graduated from California State University, Fresno, with a degree in mass communications and journalism, focusing on advertising, and dreams of becoming an art director.She was making $15 an hour in a part-time job at a public relations firm before she was let go in the spring during the first coronavirus surge. She started working at Walmart in October for $13 an hour, the minimum wage last year.Jessica Ramirez makes $15.65 an hour at the Amazon warehouse in Fresno, but even with food stamps, she finds her pay barely enough to support her five children.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney for The New York TimesWhen the wage went up, Ms. Parra said, she could more easily help with rent and pay the phone and cable bills at the apartment that she shares with her mother, who makes $18.50 an hour at a heating and air-conditioning company.She noted, however, that her wages were not enough for her to live on her own. “I wouldn’t say that we’re poor, but I also wouldn’t say that we’re well off,” she said. “But because there is both of us who have incomes, we’re able to do O.K.”Mayor Jerry Dyer said there were “mixed feelings, obviously,” about the rising minimum wage. “As a mayor of a city, it’s important that we have people in our community who are making a livable wage,” he said.But Mr. Dyer, a Republican, said he also understood the pain that businesses might be feeling. “I’ve heard from businesses that if the minimum wage goes up too much, they’re not able to be competitive,” he said.“That’s the challenge that we face,” he said.One prevailing question is whether $15 is enough.In Fresno, it often isn’t. M.I.T.’s Living Wage Calculator estimates that a living wage in Fresno for a family of four, with both adults working, is $22.52 an hour. In the past year, Fresno’s median rent increased by 11 percent, to $1,260, according to Apartment List’s National Rent Report, among the greatest increases in the country.For 40 hours a week, Jessica Ramirez, 26, makes $15.65 an hour at the Amazon warehouse in Fresno. She is the primary breadwinner for herself, her partner and her five children, but even with food stamps and occasional gig work, she said, her wage is barely enough for them to get by.Ms. Ramirezsaid she was renting a three-bedroom house for $1,350 a month — roughly half of what she makes.She wants to go to college, but even more, she wants a better life for her children. “I’m their provider,” she said. “I have to give them a home. That’s what they need — a home.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Minimum Wage Hike Would Help Poverty but Cost Jobs, Budget Office Says

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyMinimum Wage Hike Would Help Poverty but Cost Jobs, Budget Office SaysThe Congressional Budget Office said raising the federal minimum wage to $15 would also increase the deficit, potentially helping the proposal’s prospects of being included in relief legislation.Protesters in Chicago last month called for the minimum wage to be increased to $15 an hour. Congress last passed an increase in 2007. Credit…Scott Olson/Getty ImagesFeb. 8, 2021, 7:43 p.m. ETWASHINGTON — Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — a proposal included in the package of relief measures being pushed by President Biden — would add $54 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office concluded on Monday.Normally, a prediction of increased debt might harm the plan’s political chances. But proponents of the wage hike seized on the forecast as evidence that the hotly contested proposal could survive a procedural challenge under the Senate’s arcane rules.Democrats are trying to add the measure to a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that is advancing through a process called budget reconciliation, which requires a simple majority rather than the 60-vote margin to overcome a filibuster. But reconciliation is reserved for matters with a significant budgetary effect.Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, said the forecast of an increased deficit showed that the measure passed the test. Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 “would have a direct and substantial impact on the federal budget,” he said in a statement. “What that means is we can clearly raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour under the rules.”Critics of the plan noted a different element of the report: its forecast that raising the minimum wage to $15 would eliminate 1.4 million jobs by the time the increase takes full effect.“Conservatives have been saying for a while that a recession is absolutely the wrong time to increase the minimum wage, even if it’s slowly phased in,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The economy’s just too fragile.”He also contested Mr. Sanders’s argument that the study raised the odds that a wage increase could survive Senate rules. The study found the measure would affect private-sector wages much more than it would raise the deficit — $333 billion versus $54 billion — showing its effect on the deficit was incidental, Mr. Riedl said.“I doubt the parliamentarian will determine that this is primarily a budgetary reform rather than an economic reform with a secondary budget effect,” he said.The rules say the budgetary effects cannot be “merely incidental” but do not define the phrase. While Mr. Sanders called $54 billion substantial, Mr. Riedl said it was about half of 1 percent of the projected 10-year deficit.Congress last passed a minimum-wage increase in 2007. The current federal minimum, $7.25 an hour, is about 29 percent below its 1968 peak when adjusted for inflation, according to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. David Cooper, an economic analyst at the institute, said 29 states and the District of Columbia have higher minimums, and seven states plus the District of Columbia were phasing in the $15-an-hour threshold.Progressives see the wage increase as a central weapon for fighting poverty and inequality, while conservatives often warn it will reduce jobs.The report in essence said both sides were right. It found a $15 minimum wage would offer raises to 27 million people and lift 900,000 people above the poverty line, but it would also cost 1.4 million jobs.Mr. Cooper disputed the jobs forecast, arguing that it was out of line with recent studies that showed increases in the minimum wage had produced little or no effect on employment. “C.B.O. seems to be going in the opposite direction,” he said.Progressives like Mr. Sanders have been arguing that an increased minimum wage would reduce federal spending because fewer people would need safety-net programs like food stamps or Medicaid. But the budget office warned that those savings would be more than offset by the higher costs of delivering services like medical care, as employers raised their workers’ pay — a finding Mr. Sanders continued to reject, citing other studies.On balance, the report said the changes would benefit labor over capital.“They assume that there is income transferred from workers at the top of the income distribution to workers at the bottom,” Mr. Cooper said. “Therefore, they implicitly say that the minimum wage is a tool for fighting inequality. That’s probably the most explicit they’ve ever been on that point.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    ‘We Are Forgotten’: Grocery Workers Hope for Higher Pay and Vaccinations

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesSee Your Local RiskVaccine InformationCalifornia Anti-Vaccine ProtestsAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main story‘We Are Forgotten’: Grocery Workers Hope for Higher Pay and VaccinationsBooming business during the pandemic hasn’t always meant better wages, and they have largely been left off vaccine priority lists.Workers protesting outside the Food 4 Less in Long Beach, Calif. Kroger plans to close the store after the city required “hero pay” for grocery workers.Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York TimesSapna Maheshwari and Feb. 8, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ETIt has been an exhausting 10 months for Toni Ward Sockwell, an assistant manager at Cash Saver, a grocery chain, in Guthrie, Okla. She has been helping to oversee about 40 anxious employees during a deadly pandemic, vigilantly disinfecting counters at the store and worrying about passing the coronavirus to her elderly mother while dropping off produce.News of the vaccines initially boosted her spirits, but her optimism faded as she learned that grocery store workers in Oklahoma would not be eligible for them until spring.“When they said we were Phase 3, I wanted to laugh,” Ms. Sockwell, 45, said. “We’re around just as many sick people as we are around nonsick people, just like health care workers, because we are always going to be open to supply food to the public.“Health care workers are heroes in my eyes,” she added. “But we are forgotten.”The race to distribute vaccines and the emergence of more contagious variants of Covid-19 have put a renewed spotlight on the plight of grocery workers in the United States. The industry has boomed in the past year as Americans have stayed home and avoided restaurants. But in most cases, that has not translated into extra pay for its workers. After Long Beach, Calif., mandated hazard pay for grocery workers, the grocery giant Kroger responded last week by saying it would close two locations.And now, even as experts warn people to minimize time spent in grocery stores because of new coronavirus variants, The New York Times found only 13 states that had started specifically vaccinating those workers.“Grocers are known to have these very thin margins, which they do, but they have been very profitable during the pandemic,” said Molly Kinder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has researched retailers’ pay during the pandemic. “Employers by and large, with only a few exceptions like Trader Joe’s and Costco, ended hazard pay months and months ago.”She added, “If you look at how the virus has gone since then, it’s so much more deadly now.”“We’re around just as many sick people as we are around nonsick people,” Toni Ward Sockwell said of grocery store workers like her. Credit…Nick Oxford for The New York TimesBrookings found that while 13 of the largest retail and grocery companies in the United States earned $17.7 billion more in the first three quarters of 2020 than they did a year earlier, most stopped offering extra compensation to their associates in the early summer. At the same time, some opted to buy back shares and gave big sums to executives.The tension is especially high on the West Coast, where cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have moved forward with mandates that require hazard pay for essential grocery workers — and are now facing threats of store closures and even an end to food bank donations from grocers.Bertha Ayala, who works at a Food 4 Less store in Long Beach, was ecstatic after the city enacted an ordinance last month requiring her store, which is owned by Kroger, to pay its workers an additional $4 per hour of “hero pay” to compensate them for the risks they face.“I love my job,” Ms. Ayala said. “But it has been very stressful.” She said the extra pay was welcome considering the high cost of living in Southern California and as a validation of her sacrifices in going to work.But only days after the additional money started flowing to Ms. Ayala and her colleagues, supervisors told the staff last week that Kroger was shutting down the store because of the hero pay requirement. Kroger also said it was closing a second store in Long Beach. The employees’ union said it had not been told whether Kroger would move the workers to other locations.Bertha Ayala, who works at the Food 4 Less in Long Beach, said the job “has been very stressful.”Credit…Maggie Shannon for The New York Times“Kroger is sending a message, more than anything else,” said Andrea Zinder, president of Local 324 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents about 160 employees at the two stores. “They are trying to intimidate workers and communities: If you pass these types of ordinances, there will be consequences.”The Coronavirus Outbreak More