Lakeland-based grocer giant Publix reported $11.2 billion in sales over the first fiscal quarter of 2020, with an estimated $1 billion as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a press release from the company, sales through March 28 were up 16.1% from $9.7 billion during the same quarter last year.
The first fiscal quarter of 2020 ran from Jan. 1-March 31. Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the close of restaurant dining rooms statewide on March 20.
“Never before have we experienced a more challenging time,” said Publix CEO Todd Jones in a statement. “Our associates’ efforts to serve our customers and communities have been nothing short of extraordinary. I want to thank our associates and couldn’t be more proud to serve alongside them.”
The employee-owned company also stated that stock prices have increased from $48.90 per share to $50.10 per share.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Publix employees have voiced frustrations with the company whose slogan is “Where shopping is a pleasure.” Back in March, associates were told they couldn’t wear masks or gloves because it might scare away customers. While many raised concerns over their own safety, employees were instead compensated with meager raises and $50 gift cards.
After the federal CARES Act was signed into law on March 17, Publix then announced it would offer two weeks of paid sick to their employees, but only after they tested positive for COVID-19, which can often take a considerable amount of time and effort that many hourly employees don’t have.
Of course, a proactive way to take care of your employees, and allow them the financial security to actually go get a coronavirus test, would be to offer hazard pay.
For months, an online petition has circulated, with over 13,000 people begging the company to offer hazard pay, but this has yet to happen.
The company has made numerous efforts to protect employees and customers during the coronavirus pandemic, like installing plexiglass barriers, initiated extra cleaning efforts, and finally allowing gloves and masks, but many of these examples came incredibly late in the outbreak. As the Tampa Bay Times reported yesterday, among its major competitors, Publix was one of the last to institute almost all safety measures, which is unconscionable for any company.
But referring to grocery store employees as “essential,” while patting them on the back for putting their lives in danger as stock prices go through the roof, is probably worse.
There’s nothing heroic about dying so that you could make some dude in a Salt Life shirt a chicken tender Pub Sub. You just get sick, and then you get replaced.
It’s difficult to track these numbers, but grocery store employees are indeed dying from coronavirus. So far, 67 Publix employees in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19 based on media reports, and at least 9 of those were in the Tampa Bay area, reports the Times.
But it’s not just grocery workers, all frontline “essential” workers deserve hazard pay, and a good place to start would be offering a “living wage.” This is something Florida will hopefully take care of when a $15 minimum wage is on the ballot in November, but it’s also something a company with earnings higher than Nike could certainly fix right now, especially when there’s no clear end in sight for this pandemic.
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