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As Crisis Deepens, Companies Hand Out Cash to Workers


A thousand dollars here, $200 there, free lunch once a week, stipends for electronic equipment: Those are some of the ways the biggest companies in the United States have come up with to help their employees get through the coronavirus crisis.

With huge chunks of the economy grinding to a halt, many businesses are bracing for a steep drop-off in demand for their services. For many, that has already meant layoffs. But for companies that are keeping employees at home — or keeping their doors open — it means coming up with ways to make their lives easier.

Walmart, the country’s largest retailer, has announced plans to give a cash bonus to all of its hourly workers in the United States. The bonus — $300 for full-time workers and $150 for part-timers — was announced Thursday, along with plans to hire 150,000 workers for its stores, clubs, and distribution and fulfillment centers to serve largely shut-in shoppers who need a steady supply of food and household goods.

On Friday, PepsiCo vowed to increase certain employees’ pay by at least $100 a week for the next month, a change it said would affect around 90,000 people. The drink and snack maker said it would also hire 6,000 workers over the coming months, provide sick leave for quarantined employees and pay employees who are forced to stay home to take care of their children two-thirds of their normal wages for up to 12 weeks. Employees at any facility that Pepsi closes will get up to 12 weeks of full pay, the company also said.

Amgen, which makes medications for heart disease and migraines, sent some employees home with $250 stipends for equipment they need, a $50-a-month allowance for internet and phone services, and a promise to pay them whatever they normally earn each week — even if their work demands dwindle.

The various approaches reflect the different needs of companies and their workers during a period of unprecedented uncertainty. Federal officials are at work on proposals to send checks directly to Americans and help hard-hit industries. But the government has enacted stimulus packages before — and there are no guidebooks for companies at a time like this.

Natasha Lamb, a managing partner at Arjuna Capital, a money manager with a history of backing initiatives on equal pay and environmental stewardship, said companies should be stepping up to avoid layoffs, especially if they’re going to be getting government help.

“This is a human crisis, and companies need to treat their employees in a human-centric way,” she said.

Major banks, whose branches would be a vital part of any direct government payments to Americans, are trying to help the tellers and other employees who would be handing over the actual cash.

JPMorgan Chase told employees in a memo on Friday that all workers making less than $60,000 a year or in one of its branches would get up to $1,000, split over two payments. Branch workers who are required to keep going into work will also get free lunch every Thursday, the bank said last week.

Bank of America is adding $200 to the paychecks of employees who have to continue to work in its branches during the crisis. Branch employees whose hours are reduced will still be paid for working full time, and call center employees will get twice their normal hourly wage for every hour they work over 40 each week. And the bank is adding staff — 1,700 employees this month — while increasing the number of people working in its consumer and small-business divisions.

“This responds to the strong and increasing interaction we are having with clients through all our channels, on a proactive and reactive basis,” the bank said in a memo to employees on Friday.

Citigroup and Wells Fargo are offering help along the periphery of employees’ lives. Citi is paying for branch employees’ transportation costs so they can avoid public transit systems, where they might be exposed to the virus. Wells Fargo is reimbursing hourly employees for up to $100 per day in child-care costs.

Bar and restaurant workers have been among the most deeply affected by government recommendations that people stay home.

Darden Restaurants, which employs more than 190,000 people across chains like Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and the Capital Grille, told employees on Wednesday that it would pay two weeks of wages to hourly workers whose shifts were reduced or eliminated because of the outbreak.

A Darden spokesman said that the company did not have an estimate for how much the program would cost but that its hourly workers earned $16 an hour, on average, including tips. The payout will be calculated by averaging the employee’s recent earnings over 13 weeks.

Tyler Zadwydas, a server at a LongHorn in New Jersey, said she typically made around $800 over two weekends. “I would be happy with $500 to $600 for the two weeks — that would be reasonable, since I do usually have four shifts a week,” she said.

Ms. Zadwydas was so happy she couldn’t resist tweeting:

“Longhorn, you are a queen.”

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