Coronavirus

Frontline Workers Want More Pandemic Hazard Pay

supermarket worker with mask

Essential workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic are asking for more bonus pay although many have indicated that no amount of money is enough to offset the risks involved.

“I think the federal government has a responsibility to step up to the plate,” Nathan Wood, 27, a resident at Yale New Haven Hospital, told the Wall Street Journal in a Monday (May 4) report. Wood cares for coronavirus patients during the nightshift and got a $1,800 bonus for “hardship work.” He said hospitals shouldn’t have to handle the total cost of bonus compensation alone.

Although hourly wages were upped temporarily for some supermarket employees and other essential retail staff, the majority of businesses, including some hospitals, are not offering any bonus money at all.

Just 25 percent of companies that need workers on-site gave them hazard pay, according to a WorldatWork survey in April, as per the WSJ. Some 46 percent of supermarkets and other essential retailers offered hazard money compared with 29 percent of healthcare workers.

Still, some people earning hazard wages don’t feel it’s enough. Madison Schmoll, 23, told the newspaper she was offered an additional $20 per shift on top of the hourly pay of $8.25 she receives. 

In addition, an extra $200 bonus was offered to people who worked through March.

“They call it hero pay, which is a really funny way to say ‘cheap hazard pay,’” she said.

Bigger businesses can generally afford to be generous with hazard pay, said Jerry Newman, a professor at University at Buffalo School of Management.

“Sometimes money is recognition,” he told WSJ. “Financially, when you’re a smaller organization, it becomes more difficult to offer.”

Some hospitals want to give frontline workers additional money but can’t afford to since elective surgeries were postponed, said Kathy Dudley Helms, an employment lawyer with Ogletree Deakins based in South Carolina. Her clients are in the healthcare field.

“Even hospitals that are typically very profitable have seen that get sucked down the drain,” she said.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney is aligning with Democrats in Congress to get funding for essential workers. A “heroes fund” for hospital and supermarket employees could be packaged with the next coronavirus relief money. Alternatively, hourly bonuses could be instituted and paid for jointly by the federal government and employers.

Hospitals and physicians across the U.S. are facing an economic crisis, losing an average of roughly $50 billion a month. Some hospitals are seeing revenue drop off by more than three-quarters of pre-pandemic levels as they’ve been forced to shut down elective surgeries, which often pay the bills.

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