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JUST Report

The Priorities of the Public Are Growing More Important as Our Economy Reopens. Are Companies Following Through?

As states across the U.S. move through different phases of reopening, many Americans are going back to work, or continuing to work, while, simultaneously, coronavirus cases surge in workplaces, communities, cities, and towns. The fight to curb the crisis is far from over, and governments, companies, and individuals must calibrate efforts to reopen our economy with efforts to keep the virus at bay – something that is proving devastatingly difficult for many states.

Companies play a key role in this delicate balancing act, and despite early, decisive action, the truth is that corporate leaders seem to be receding from some policies – like hazard pay and paid sick leave – while cases surge. It cannot be business as usual, as the outcome for some companies has already shown. Some that have reopened – like Apple – have had to close stores once again due to surges. Others – like Tyson and other meatpacking plants – have faced outbreaks on their factory floors, leaving devastating ripples throughout their communities.

Critical actions like instituting “hero pay” for essential workers putting their health on the line at supermarkets, warehouses, and retailers have been quietly rolled back and ended, despite the increasing risks across the country.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, JUST, in collaboration with our partners at The Harris Poll, has been turning to the American public to ask them what they expect from companies during COVID-19 – bringing their voice to the surface in a time when the actions of corporate America deeply affect their health, safety, and financial stability. They let us know that they believe companies should prioritize the following:

 

 

Simultaneously, JUST Capital has been tracking how companies are responding to the pandemic and our COVID-19 Corporate Response Tracker has examined how the nation’s top 300 employers are prioritizing health and safety, financial assistance, and more for their employees, customers, and communities.

Below, we take a look at how companies are following through on the priorities of the public – on key actions that are likely only to grow in importance in the months ahead:

Health and Safety

According to our recent survey, 89% of Americans want companies to prioritize health and safety measures. But just shy of two-thirds – 63% – of America’s 300 largest employers have instituted new health and safety policies in response to COVID-19, and only 26% have disclosed they will provide their workers with free personal protective equipment (PPE). These measures will undoubtedly be critically important as more businesses and communities reopen in the coming months.

 

 

Companies need to continue to take worker safety into consideration in these decisions. When pressed to make a choice between two options for returning to work, three out of four Americans say large companies should prioritize the health and safety of people, even if it means taking a more cautious approach to re-opening.

 

Paid Sick Leave

74% of Americans believe that companies should prioritize paid sick leave – specifically, offering 14 days to all employees in accordance with CDC guidelines. Still, only 31% of America’s largest employers have announced a paid sick leave policy in response to COVID-19, leaving many of America’s workers extraordinarily vulnerable, along with customers who frequent these stores, as companies reopen.

 

Financial Assistance

While 77% of Americans believe companies should prioritize hazard pay or other pay to frontline workers, only 29% of America’s largest employers announced new financial assistance programs, and only 12% have specifically offered temporary wage increases or hazard pay.

 

 

For a bit of a more drilled-down view of what this financial assistance can amount to for employees, below is how that 29% breaks down.

 

JUST has been closely tracking hazard pay programs, and only a few of the largest employers have made pay increases permanent, including Target and Charter Communications. The majority of employers have let hero pay programs quietly end – including Walmart, Kroger, Amazon, Lowe’s – despite the very real continued health risks of their workers, and despite the fact that nearly 70% of Americans believe that companies should keep in place higher hourly pay for frontline workers at essential businesses for the next year.

 

 

Layoffs & Furloughs

Three in four Americans want companies to avoid layoffs. Still, 11% of the nation’s 300 largest employers have announced layoffs, and 25% have announced furloughs. Among the 25%, nearly 57% continue to provide affected employees health insurance benefits.

 

Leadership Pay Cuts

While Americans believe reduced compensation for CEOs and other executives is the number one step large companies should be taking right now to avoid layoffs, only 28% of America’s 300 largest public employers have announced pay cuts for leadership in response to COVID-19. Similarly, news coverage indicates those cuts are endings.

 

 

Looking forward, it’s critical that companies continue to prioritize these actions – guided by the priorities of the public and efforts to reopen as safely as possible. It’s not yet time to relax or roll back these actions, as workers and customers are likely to continue to need protection in the months ahead – particularly when it comes to heightened health and safety precautions, expanded paid sick leave, and financial assistance. Many companies have stepped up to the plate to support their stakeholders in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, and many more are likely to need to do so as our nation gradually reopens. We will continue to track the actions corporate leaders take as the pandemic evolves, and our nation approaches the Great Reset.

For a closer look at some of these topics, take a look at these analyses below:

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