Right now, Walmart Inc. is working to hire an additional 150,000 temporary workers while simultaneously preparing its stores’ parking lots to become coronavirus testing sites in the midst of the quickly-progressing pandemic.
“Everything is ready to go,” said executive vice president of corporate affairs, Dan Bartlett. “We have the tents. It should be up and running soon.”
The company has already begun testing around Chicago, with a priority of testing health care workers and emergency responders. These efforts are in collaboration with drugstore chain Walgreens Boots Alliance and other medical officials.
Most of the new employees will work in stores, and many of them are expected to become permanent staff after the outbreak subsides. Walmart has been working with restaurant and hospitality companies to hire workers who may be experiencing furloughs and layoffs.
The hiring announcement was first released soon after Amazon said it would be hiring 100,000 delivery and warehouse workers in order to meet heavier online shopping demands.
Walmart has been experiencing traffic surges lately that it has only ever experienced during holiday peaks. The company is now working on ”catching its breath,” said Bartlett, while its grocery pickup requests have been “slammed.” Although the initial high demand that was emptying store shelves was for paper products and bottled water, the focus is now on food and groceries.
“We’re trying to find where the new normal is,” Bartlett explained. “We’re not sure we’ve hit it yet.”
As U.S. unemployment benefit filings are expected to surge to new records (as high as 3 million, according to Bank of America), Walmart is not expecting any shortage of qualified applicants. The new hires will be divided across Walmart’s 4,750 American stores as well as throughout its 150 distribution centers.
In addition, Walmart, which employs 1.5 million people across the country, said it would pay cash bonuses totaling $550 million to its hour workers.The company plans to pay a $300 cash bonus to its full-time hourly workers and $150 to its part-timers. It will also be accelerating first-quarter bonuses.
Target Corp. is also boosting its wages, raising them by $2 an hour for its store and distribution center workers until May 2nd. Target will also be giving special bonuses to around 20,000 of its hourly managers and will provide paid leave of up to 30 days for its older and pregnant workers. According to Target, these efforts total about $300 million.
Bartlett says that at Walmart, most of the new workers will either staff the company’s distribution center or work at online fulfillment centers, not necessarily making up for in-store workers unable to appear at work. “It’s not so much about filling a gap, but there is just so much demand,” Bartlett said.
Walmart will give every American hourly worker employed by March 1st a special bonus, with payments expected by April 2nd.
“We felt this was a moment [in which] they needed to be provided some extra merit pay,” Bartlett said. “They are doing herculean work in our stores–serving our customers in, frankly, a tense environment.”
In regards to coronavirus testing, federal and state health officials are initially administering tests while Walmart staffers will observe. Soon, the company’s pharmacies will be able to carry out swab tests, but will not handle the data of patients.
“We don’t want people coming off the street and thinking they can get a test,” said Bartlett “It will be an orderly process.”
Walmart does not plan to shut down any of its U.S. stores, unlike many other department stores. According to Bartlett, Walmart’s leaders in the U.S. are looking to their counterparts overseas. Out of China’s 400 Walmart stores, “maybe two” had to be closed during the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. Still, most reduced hours of operation.
The company’s efforts may be impressive, but some labor advocates are critical of the expectations of these workers.
“The expansion of Walmart’s workforce by hiring temporary employees is nothing to celebrate,” said Melissa Love, a Walmart employee and member of United for Respect, a labor advocacy group. “This is a slap in the face: In the midst of a crisis, while associates like me are going above and beyond the call of duty to serve our customers, Walmart is bringing in an army of new hires to do our jobs, and we can’t even get enough hours.”