Publix made an extra $2.5 billion during the coronavirus pandemic

Employees of the Lakeland-based grocery store have not been receiving hazard pay during the pandemic bump in sales.

PHOTO VIA PUBLIX/ FACEBOOK
PHOTO VIA PUBLIX/ FACEBOOK

In a second-quarter update, Publix Supermarkets stated on Monday that the company made $2.5 billion more in sales so far this year, due to COVID-19.

Publix's sales for the six months ending in June were $22.6 billion, an 18.9 percent increase from $19 billion in 2019, while comparable store sales for the six months increased 17.1% — or approximately $2.5 billion — "due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic," says the company's statement.

As of Saturday, Publix's stock price increased from $50.10 per share to $54.35, or $4.25 per share.Along with other grocery stores, Publix was classified as an essential business when a national emergency was declared on March 13, and its 1,252 stores have mostly remained open ever since, with modified procedures.

Employees of the Lakeland-based grocery store have not been receiving hazard pay during the pandemic bump in sales, and they even had to fight for the ability to wear masks and gloves on the job, while working with the general public. It took Publix until July 21 to even require customers to wear masks.

The Orlando Sentinel has reported coronavirus cases at 30 out of 125 stores in five Central Florida counties.As of Monday, an online petition calling for hazard pay is just short of its 15,000-signature goal.

"Publix stock is not publicly traded and is made available for sale only to current Publix associates and members of its board of directors," the company says.

Let's take a look at who benefits most from a stock increase at America's largest "majority employee-owned company."

Indeed estimates the average hourly pay for a Publix grocery bagger is $9.69. So it would take an employee 517 hours — roughly 64 eight-hour days — to buy 100 shares of company stock at the pre-August price, using all of their wages. Employees can't spend all their earnings on company stock, of course, and are limited in part by their number of years of continuous employment, so they usually own very little.

An employee who does own 100 shares, however, would have gained $425 in share value over these past six months.

While the U.S. Department of Labor does not require anyone to receive additional pay for "hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship," the the U.S. House passed the Heroes Act in May, designed to pay $13 an hour to anyone facing such dangers — including grocery workers — but it doesn't require hazard pay for all jobs, leaving the states to choose which.Had an employee with 100 shares instead been paid the additional $3.31 an hour, it would have taken them only 128 hours to earn the extra $425 — without having to first purchase any stock.

Those who can purchase the most stock, meanwhile, are the board of directors and billionaire members of the founding Jenkins family, which owns roughly 20 percent of shares. In 2015, the late founder George Jenkins' daughter Carol Jenkins Barnett reached a net worth of nearly $1.7 billion, with her brother Howard M. Jenkins passing the billion-dollar mark. They are surely much richer today.On July 1, the company announced it would pay a quarterly dividend on Monday of $0.32 per share, to all those holding stock on July 15.Employees with, for example, 100 shares will receive $32.

This story first appeared at our sister publication Orlando Weekly.

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