Photos of frontliners

A few tears before the pandemic struck, the Free Press covered the small group of local Walmart workers who were fed up with making $9-an-hour and forced to work on Thanksgiving night and well into Black Friday.

Aligning themselves with the national movement OUR Walmart or the Organization United for Respect, which was funded by the United Food Commercial Workers union (UFCW), this small bunch protested on Black Friday at their East Main and Bethel stores.

OUR Walmart has gone away unfortunately, and the drive unionize to Walmart has stalled.

Nevertheless, Walmart has decided to close this Thanksgiving, but they are opening their doors at 5am on Black Friday. When an avalanche of deal seekers will pour through, a nightmare working-at-home community members never have to deal with.

But this bad dream continues for hundreds-of-thousands of retail workers. It couldn’t possibly get any worse for them, or could it?

Indeed, with the chance of getting punched in the face if their store runs out of PlayStation 5s, the COVID spread is at its worst and could kill a retail worker before Christmas. Another gut punch is no new round of hero or hazard pay has been announced for Walmart.

“The median retail salesperson in Ohio makes $11.36 per hour, while the cashier in the middle makes $10.29, roughly the poverty level for a family of three based on full-time work,” said Policy Matters Ohio researcher Michael Shields to the Free Press. “Not only have these workers shared none of the growth they have helped to make possible over the last five decades, they are making less than their counterparts were in 1968.

“Now retail workers are on the frontlines helping everyone to get through the public health crisis.”

Kroger hasn’t announced a new bonus, or a new round of hero pay either. Central Ohio’s most popular grocery store has arguably become an important lifeline for our communities as we remain stuck at home.

Reflecting this are Kroger’s spiking profits. Posting an $819 million profit for 2020’s second quarter, tripling that amount from the same period last year.

And what many may not be aware of is that the Cincinnati-based Kroger over the previous decade has become the world’s largest grocery storechain with $121 billion in revenue for 2019.

True, Kroger is UFCW unionized, with most of their full-time employees making between $15 to $20-an-hour with benefits.

But is that wage enough? Imagine yourself a cashier who faces endless impatient patient customers or sitting in front of a freezer all day stocking ice cream or running carts in from a cold rain for hours on end.

Now throw in a pandemic (which could kill you) where your store is periodically crushed with a desperate and privileged mob demanding more toilet paper.

The near and long-term outlook for Kroger is so promising, right after it ended hero pay earlier this year, it started buying huge amounts of its stock back. Knowing how greedy Kroger corporate is, the buybacks may be used to increase shareholder dividends and pad senior executive’s compensation instead of giving back to their essential employees. Does CEO Rodney McMullen feel Kroger’s strong performance during the pandemic means he gets to pad his $21 million annual compensation?

“It is stunning that in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century, Kroger and other top grocery and retail chains are eliminating hazard pay for their essential workers, but can somehow find hundreds of millions of dollars for stock buybacks,” said the union’s president Marc Perrone recently.

Not forgotten are those pandemic heroes who have been taking care of our increasing and vulnerable elderly community members. And one of the fastest growing and profitable franchises in the US are those who provide caregivers to seniors who wish to remain in their home.

Here in Columbus, we have two Home Instead Senior Care franchises, where hundreds of caregiver temps are sent out into the pandemic to take care of our elderly, many suffering from Alzheimer’s and the like. Home Instead is a multinational corporation with over 1,000 independently owned franchises.

But like many franchised operations (such as fast food) it’s either you help make a profit for the corporate owners or you lose your franchise. Which means many franchises seek to cut cost by paying their employees – who do all the hard and essential labor – peanuts.

Shocking in many ways is the Home Instead caregiver wage – roughly around $10 an hour while charging its senior clients anywhere from $20 to $25 per hour.

We were recently alerted to Home Instead from “Tamara” (not her real name) who says her elderly father “Paris” has become best friends with his Home Instead caregiver, a young white Millennial male with a big heart.

“But my father, when he considers how much Home Instead pays his caregiver of whom he has grown so fond of, he has broken down and cried. My father has had to tell the caregiver ‘sorry, I can’t take advantage of you like this,’” said Tamara.

The Free Press spoke to one of the local Home Instead franchises about this and were immediately told by management their elderly client had violated their “confidentiality agreement” by talking about their caregiver’s compensation.

Making your elderly clients sign a confidentiality agreement so to not divulge their caregiver’s pay? Further evidence Home Instead is more about making money than caring about their client’s wellbeing.

One of Home Instead’s local franchise owners, Betty Phillips, told us “we have provided all caregivers with a bonus.” When and how much were not given.

“We are mindful of providing seniors and their families with options for personalized care while balancing the need to pay our employees a competitive wage,” stated Phillips in an email. “We will continue to seek out other ways to support our clients, caregivers and staff during this difficult time.”