Last weekend, workers at the three biggest grocery store chains in Canada ceased to be heroes. The employees of Loblaws/Superstore, Sobeys and Metro, who have been cleaning, stocking, and serving the rest of us our vital necessities since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, were stripped of the $2 per hour pandemic pay premium that began in March.
The pay raise was always meant to end, eventually. In its March 2020 quarterly report to shareholders, Loblaws described the pay premium as a temporary way of supporting colleagues in stores and distribution centres. But the end of the raise, not even three months later, seems like it has come out of nowhere. In his letter to employees on Friday, June 12, the CEO of Empire Group (the parent company of Sobeys and Metro) explained that with daily life and commerce settling into a new normal, company executives felt that this was a natural time to end our Hero Pay program.
But what has really changed? Cashiers now have a plexiglass shield to protect them from customers, and other measures, such as the process of spraying down grocery carts and the directional arrows in the aisles, have been worked out. In many provinces, the curve has been flattened and the risk of infection is lowered, for now. But the fundamental danger of being in public during an outbreak one which will only be known after its spreading and the stress and anxiety employees must feel going to work, have not changed much. In many jurisdictions, cases are still rising, and everywhere, future waves of COVID-19 are probable. The essential nature of grocery store labour has not changed either.
Moreover, COVID-19 exposed the ugly, indefensible unfairness of how people are compensated for their work in Canada and most other places, and that has not changed at all.
In the first quarter of 2020, the grocers now rolling back pay premiums made record profits. Industry voices tell us that grocery stores have narrow margins and the pay premiums are unsustainable. But the margins are wide enough to pay shareholders handsomely. In return for steadily increasing dividends, the majority of those shareholders have greedily voted against proposals for a living wage for retail employees, as Loblaws shareholders did in 2018. The companys CEO, Galen Weston, has been a strong, loud opponent of even basic minimum wage increases.
It is not impossible to pay grocery store workers a living wage. It is only impossible to do it while also allowing the richest Canadians to get richer. By ending the pay premiums, we are merely rolling the rug back down over the unjustifiable inequalities the pandemic made visible for a moment.
When COVID-19 first started spreading around the globe, some observers said it was an equalizer it didnt care if you were rich or poor. But after only a few weeks, it was obvious that, like so many other things, the pandemic would exacerbate existing inequalities. The impacts it has had on workers vary dramatically, but not randomly. Statistics Canada has shown that the highest-educated and the highest-income earners are far more likely to be able to work from home and continue to collect their full salary. Those who are paid less, and paid hourly, are more likely to have to continue to put themselves at greater risk, in public, in order to get paid.
As the anthropologist David Graeber has pointed out, most of those higher-income folks the ones who are now working from home could fall off the face of the Earth tomorrow and you wouldnt notice for a long time. As he put it recently, Its hard to know what else to conclude when literally millions of highly paid office workers have been forced to stay away from the office, to reduce their work to 10 or 15 minutes a day, or often nothing at all, without having the slightest impact on those essential functions that keep the public fed, clothed, distracted and alive.
But if the grocery store workers stop showing up? What happens then? In March, their employers were willing to concede that they were essential, and deserved more, as retail workers advocates have been pointing out for decades. Nothing about grocery store workers role in the economy or importance in our lives has changed, but their claim to being essential has been stripped of them. It makes no sense unless our only objective is protecting private corporations profits.
In the stores where you and I buy our groceries, workers now make minimum wage or close to it. Thus, it is possible to work full-time and have difficulty affording the food on the shelves, while shareholders pore over their quarterly earnings reports and think of ways to make more money.
This isnt just a math or money problem. Its a moral problem. A boycott wont work, because grocery stores have consolidated until there are so few options were forced to choose the least worst among them. Still, there are many ways to solve it, from retail unionization to living wage legislation to a Basic Income Guarantee. But leaving it up to the benevolence of private corporations and their shareholders should finally be off the table.
Karen Foster is associate professor, sociology and social anthropology, Dalhousie University, and director of the Rural Futures Research Centre.
Read the original here:
- Is a universal basic income coming to Wales? Campaigners say now is the time - Big Issue - May 16th, 2021
- Minister Martin: We can protect our artists by covering their basic living costs - thejournal.ie - March 21st, 2021
- Clubhouse promises its accelerator participants either brand deals or $5K per month during the program - TechCrunch - March 16th, 2021
- Agenda: Is Universal Basic Income the key to tackling care leaver poverty? - HeraldScotland - March 7th, 2021
- Get creative to help artists through pandemic - The Guardian - February 16th, 2021
- The economy can't guarantee a job. It can guarantee a liveable income for other work - The Conversation AU - January 25th, 2021
- Donald Trump and Richard Nixon: 10 comparisons the Internet made to show POTUS is '10X worse' - MEAWW - January 15th, 2021
- Basic income for all: Has the Covid crisis given us a new economic model? - The Irish Times - November 29th, 2020
- Universal basic income has time come for it? Debate intensifies in pandemic - WRAL Tech Wire - November 29th, 2020
- We Need Universal Basic Income And We Need It Now - Scary Mommy - August 30th, 2020
- Prepare for the irreversible rise of non-profit activity everywhere - Livemint - August 26th, 2020
- Five Things You Need to Know to Start Your Day - Bloomberg - August 26th, 2020
- In the wake of Covid-19, time to consider basic income: Senate report - Investment Executive - July 15th, 2020
- COVID-19 on P.E.I.: What's happening Tuesday, July 14 - CBC.ca - July 15th, 2020
- COVID-19 on P.E.I.: What's happening Monday, July 13 - CBC.ca - July 15th, 2020
- COVID illuminates global inequalities in workers' rights and working conditions - University of Birmingham - June 24th, 2020
- Why a Universal Basic Income is the solution to inequity - Women's Agenda - June 24th, 2020
- Crypto Experts Reveal Thoughts: How Will Bitcoin Perform After the COVID-19 Crisis Has Passed? - Yahoo Finance - June 24th, 2020
- A universal basic income is less attractive if it needs to be paid for - American Enterprise Institute - June 17th, 2020
- COVID-19: UN agencies warn against rising hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean - UN News - June 17th, 2020
- Why recovery needs to have children at its centre - Social Europe - June 17th, 2020
- Basic Income activism in the United States | BIEN - Basic Income News - June 6th, 2020
- When All Men Are Paid for Existing: Universal Basic Income Has Arrived - National Review - June 6th, 2020
- Local funds model the racial reckoning and renewal central to the COVID recovery - ImpactAlpha - June 6th, 2020
- National Security at the United Nations This Week (May 8-15) - Just Security - May 15th, 2020
- What is Basic Income? | Guaranteed Universal Basic Income - May 11th, 2020
- Basic Income Guarantee | Universal | UBI - May 11th, 2020
- Coronavirus is a crisis for the developing world, but here's why it needn't be a catastrophe - The Guardian - May 11th, 2020
- Universal Basic Income: Andrew Yang Was Pushing for It Long Before Coronavirus Pandemic - PopCulture.com - May 11th, 2020
- Starvation in the time of Corona: momentum for the Universal Basic Dividend - DiEM25 - May 11th, 2020
- Is this the beginning of a Universal Basic Income? - Yahoo Finance Australia - April 11th, 2020
- How the Pandemic Could Shape the Economy In the Future - TheStreet - April 11th, 2020
- After the pandemic, will there be a new status quo? - The Corner Economic - April 11th, 2020
- UK workers hit by the economic pain of coronavirus need an income guarantee - The Guardian - April 9th, 2020
- The complexities of a universal basic income - Knowable Magazine - April 9th, 2020
- How Are We Going to Pay for It? - Common Dreams - April 9th, 2020
- We're all socialists now | The Interpreter - The Interpreter - April 9th, 2020
- Out of the coronavirus crisis, a new kind of Britain must be born - The Guardian - April 9th, 2020
- Michael Clifford: Is it now time to give some real thought to Universal Basic Income in Ireland? - Irish Examiner - April 9th, 2020
- COVID-19 kicks over the economy - rabble.ca - April 9th, 2020
- Covid-19 Unmasks the Privilege of Isolation in Rio de Janeiro and All Brazil - RioOnWatch - April 9th, 2020
- How WhatsApp is making it more expensive to spread misinformation - The Verge - April 9th, 2020
- For artists and gig workers, expanded emergency benefit access is encouraging but worries about the post-COVID-19 future remain - Toronto Star - April 9th, 2020
- Will There Be a New Status Quo After COVID-19? - Qrius - April 9th, 2020
- Common Arguments Against Basic Income Don't apply to the Emergency BI - Basic Income News - March 31st, 2020
- I've lived through plenty of social shocks this time we must learn the lessons - The Guardian - March 31st, 2020
- How a Basic Income And Jobs Guarantee Can Save The Economy From Coronavirus - The National Interest - March 26th, 2020
- Draghi: we face a war against coronavirus and must mobilise accordingly | Free to read - Financial Times - March 26th, 2020
- Lockdown to fight coronavirus is going to hit most Indian workers very hard - Livemint - March 26th, 2020
- Universal basic income: what is it, how does it work and could it help fight the coronavirus crisis? - Telegraph.co.uk - March 24th, 2020
- It's time to move mountains to protect people we need universal basic income - The Guardian - March 24th, 2020
- Italy: Urgent petition in time of Corona Virus: Expanding the Citizen's Income Scheme! If Not Now, When? - Basic Income News - March 24th, 2020
- Coronavirus: Iain Duncan Smith says dont bring in universal basic income during pandemic as it would be disincentive to work - The Independent - March 24th, 2020
- Solidarity Economicsfor the Coronavirus Crisis and Beyond - The American Prospect - March 24th, 2020
- Trump's right: Congress should give Americans $1,000 right now to fight the coronavirus recession - The Conversation US - March 24th, 2020
- Covid-19s Economic Pain Is Universal. But Relief? Depends on Where You Live. - The New York Times - March 24th, 2020
- Who the government's coronavirus economic measures leave behind - Left Foot Forward - March 24th, 2020
- COVID-19 outbreak brings attention back to informal sector - Down To Earth Magazine - March 24th, 2020
- Coronavirus, Surveillance And The Redefinition Of The Social Contract - Forbes - March 24th, 2020
- Commentary: We need food, medicine and safety not tax cuts and corporate bailouts to face coronavirus - The Daily World - March 24th, 2020
- New Zealand Orders Month-Long Lockdown To Halt Spread Of Coronavirus - International Business Times - March 24th, 2020
- All the Coronavirus Tribes You've Met During the Outbreak - VICE - March 24th, 2020
- Fiscal Policies to Protect People During the Coronavirus Outbreak - International Monetary Fund - March 5th, 2020
- Column: Socialism is not the American way | Opinion - Duncan Banner - February 29th, 2020
- P.E.I. Premier Dennis King talks climate, economy and highs and lows in Part 2 of his year-end interview with The Guardian - The Journal Pioneer - January 3rd, 2020
- We need to test whether our millions in education aid is actually working - Financial Post - January 3rd, 2020
- A modern method of cutting poverty: Investigating what Universal Basic Income will mean for Northern families - Mancunian Matters - December 13th, 2019
- The Guardian view on Finlands new PM: a different type of leadership - The Guardian - December 13th, 2019
- Want to Retire in Harmony? Make Sure All Parts of Your Plan Are in Sync - Kiplinger's Personal Finance - December 13th, 2019
- Broadband for All could revolutionize wifi in UK, if it's possible - Inverse - November 30th, 2019
- California higher education hangs in the balance as UC, Cal State search for new leaders - Los Angeles Times - November 30th, 2019
- Food shopping at dollar stores - Brantford Expositor - August 22nd, 2017
- How Cities Can Rebuild the Social Safety Net - CityLab - August 20th, 2017
- Universal Basic Infrastructure to help decrease India's poverty - Economic Times - August 15th, 2017
- New Zealand Fabians host Basic Income panel - Basic Income News - August 14th, 2017
- Universal basic income proponent to speak in Boise - Idaho Press-Tribune - August 8th, 2017
- Is a Well-Paying Job the next Entitlement Program? - Big Think (blog) - August 6th, 2017
- DON PRIDMORE: Be careful what you wish for... - The Guardian - August 1st, 2017
- EDITORIAL: Island needs dollars, not data, to cope with poverty - The Guardian - July 27th, 2017
- Peterborough businesses claim $15 minimum wage hike could result in job cuts - Globalnews.ca - July 26th, 2017