Many retailers across the United States have quietly stopped providing their workers with the pay raises they had dispensed at the start of the pandemic, despite surging virus numbers in many states.
The companies’ rationale for cutting back on this so-called hero pay is that the panic-buying that flooded stores during the early weeks of the crisis has waned.
Stop & Shop is the latest retailer to make such a move, ending a 10 percent pay raise it gave its 56,000 employees this spring to acknowledge that their work was essential and appreciated. Amazon, Kroger and Albertsons have also ended pandemic hourly pay raises, though some of them continue to give out bonuses. ShopRite said it planned to end its $2-an-hour raise early next month.
But while hoarding may be over, infection remains a very real threat, especially in environments like retail stores, where even with masks and social-distancing measures workers say they still feel vulnerable.
As dozens of states endure record levels of new cases, many employees say the job of the essential retail worker has actually become even more difficult than at the start of the health crisis.
The politicization of mask-wearing has not helped. Store employees now risk heated and even violent confrontations when they remind customers and colleagues alike to cover their faces.
“What we are doing is still very risky,” said Eddie Quezada, a produce manager at a Stop & Shop store on Long Island. “We should get at least something for that.”
Nearly every day for the past four months, Mr. Quezada has followed the same routine. When he returns home from work, he strips off his clothes on the porch and immediately deposits them in the wash. The coronavirus, which infected Mr. Quezada and several co-workers, still feels like an ever-present threat.
Many of the retailers said the extra hourly pay was meant to reward employees while they worked through months of wildly surging sales. But lately, there is less reason for the large raises, the companies said.