One of the biggest problems in the coronavirus pandemic is turning out to be whether, and how fast, to open the country back up. In the absence of any firm, clear federal directives – or, let’s be honest, in the presence of a president who contradicts himself every few days – reopening is being mostly left up to states, localities and individual companies.
This, of course, leads to a variety of dilemmas and problems, distinguished only by their decree of difficulty. One that may not rank the highest in urgency, but is quite vexing, is the question of bonuses.
A lot of companies have been offering extra money – calling it hero pay, hazard pay, or whatever – to workers who have no choice but to show up for their jobs. This is especially true across the food supply chain, from factories to restaurants, where workers have to toil in close proximity to each other, and often to the public.
But as restrictions on businesses ease – to varying degrees in various locations – companies have to decide how long to keep paying their employees extra.
It’s safe to day that most of the companies involved anticipated that the extra pay would one day come to an end. But it’s also safe to say that for most of the workers involved, the gratitude they felt diffused during the long crisis – and may not have been all that intense to begin with.
“They call it hero pay, which is a really funny way to say ‘cheap hazard pay,’” a McDonald’s employee told the Wall Street Journal.
Let’s be honest: This is a reflection of the greater problem of low wages in many food-related industries. It’s not just grocery and fast-food workers. Wages in food processing average about 30% less than the mean wage for all production occupations.
As crises often do, this one is bringing into sharper relief some problems that were already there. It may be time to think about making some of those raises permanent.