Holiday Crowds are Good for Business — but Not for Retail Workers

This year’s holiday shopping season is expected to bring in record sales — forcing many retail workers to the front lines of the pandemic, often without hazard pay, despite another surge of coronavirus infections.

“Retail workers experience heightened stress and pressure during the holiday season, even in normal times. However, this year, that stress is exponentially increased because of the serious health and safety risks resulting from the pandemic,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said in a statement.

“Workers are in public-facing jobs; and they interact with larger numbers of customers during the holiday season, risking their own exposure to Covid-19 as well as possibly bringing it home to their families,” he said.

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Around 190 million people shopped over Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend last year, according to the National Retail Federation. While that number is expected to be down by 43 percent this year, that still means millions of people will trek to a store out of tradition or to nab a deal.

“Some things have not changed, such as the staying power of branded moments like Black Friday. We expect record buying through Thanksgiving weekend. Shoppers have been conditioned to expect deals and save money, and retailers will meet the call,”  Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights retail analytics, said Tuesday.

While this might come as good news for brick-and-mortar stores that have been crushed by the pandemic, retail workers are nervous about the potential onslaught of eager shoppers — many of whom don’t always follow social distancing and mask rules.

“I have no idea how busy it’s going to be,” she told NBC News. “I might get [the virus] but I’m worried no one [shopping at the store] cares.” L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, did not respond to a request for comment.

While the pandemic has crushed some retailers, it has lifted others. From Walmart to Target, the country’s top retailers have earned an additional $16.9 billion in profit on average this year from last year as stock prices soared upwards by 33 percent, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution. But among those companies, workers received an average increase in pay of just $1.11 per hour since the pandemic began.

In spring, at the height of the coronavirus crisis, retailers rolled out “hazard pay” to store employees who worked through the pandemic. However, many of those companies have since discontinued that pay — even as their stock prices soared.

Kroger initially gave workers a $2 per hour raise, but later adjusted its hazard pay program to a one-time pay bonus and two separate awards of $100 in store credit. Yet, in September, the grocery chain bought $1 billion worth of its own stock in a share buyback, which companies tend to do when they have cash on hand while the stock market is strong. “We continue to listen to our associates and take steps to ensure their safety and well-being,” the company said in a statement.

Amazon also cut back on its $2 an hour hazard pay at its warehouses and fulfillment centers, despite seeing its shares soar by nearly 100 percent since the pandemic hit. Amazon did not return a request for comment…  NBC News