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The complex ethics of Walmart and Amazon’s recent hiring sprees

As Americans face the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are losing jobs and health benefits that are becoming increasingly necessary. Almost every labor sector has been affected, from the restaurant industry to sex workers. Meanwhile, big box stores, grocery chains, and online retailers are reaping the rewards of stockpiling and social distancing, and as a result, already overfed corporate behemoths like Amazon and Walmart are hiring.

Corporate reps are touting this hiring surge as a corporate public service and a civilian call-to-arms. "We know millions of Americans who are usually employed at this time are temporarily out of work, and at the same time we're currently seeing strong demand in our stores," Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart told CNN. "We're looking for people who see Walmart as a chance to earn some extra money and perform a vital service to their community," the company said in a press release. In other words, for those who need money, Walmart’s got it, and new hires are also supposedly helping their communities by offering retail service in our nation’s time of need.

What corporate execs aren’t vocalizing is that retail employees are expected to perform high risk public services right now in high stress environments for low pay and questionable benefits. "These roles will be temporary at first, but many will convert to permanent roles over time," Walmart said in a press release, CNN reported. According to Walmart’s website, employees do not become eligible for health benefits until a year after their first day.

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Given the health crisis the nation is facing, people need healthcare benefits now more than ever. Cashiers are at an elevated risk of contracting the coronavirus, according to the New York Times. Instead of benefits, Walmart will be paying bonuses of between $150-$300 for employees who are working during the pandemic, CNN reported. The company has revised their sick leave policies to allow sick employees to stay home, but they will not, unfortunately, be guaranteed pay according to the new Coronavirus Paid Leave Act, which only mandates for people who work in companies with 500 people or less.

It’s a similar situation over at Amazon. The online retail giant is looking for 100,000 new warehouse employees to keep up with massive sales, but there is concern about the safety of Amazon warehouse working conditions. A worker in their warehouse in Queens has already tested positive for COVID-19, and Amazon warehouse employees are publicly expressing concern. In response, the company increased warehouse work pay by $2 an hour and is allowed for unlimited unpaid sick time through the end of March, reported the Atlantic.

“We’ve taken measures to promote social distancing in the workplace and taken on enhanced and frequent cleaning,” the company stated in a press release. I’m no geometrician, but how is it possible to create more distance between more people within a limited space? Amazon is scurrying to respond to criticism by taking such measures as canceling group warehouse meetings and reconfiguring break rooms, Buzzfeed reports.

Delivery retail services are becoming increasingly important as more of us find ourselves on lockdown. Those of us lucky enough to afford such luxuries right now might want to start paying a little more attention to how the workers that provide those services are being treated before we become unwitting co-conspirators in disaster capitalism.