Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans have ordered groceries online for the first time. By some estimates, as many as 45% of all households—55.5 million—ordered groceries online for delivery or pickup during August. Major grocery chains have seen their total revenue from online orders double or even triple from last year. Some surveys show as much as 25% of U.S. grocery sales were ordered digitally during the widespread lock-down period in May, and still nearly 12% in August. Many customers, understandably nervous about the health implications of leaving their homes and sharing narrow grocery aisles with other shoppers, are exploring new ways of getting food to their homes. This not only has led to the surge in online grocery ordering, but also provided a stimulus to the struggling meal kit industry and expanded home delivery of prepared foods. For elderly customers and those with vulnerable health conditions, the expansion of these new food ordering and delivery channels literally is a lifeline in the context of the pandemic.
The growth of e-commerce sales for food has increased the number of jobs available at a time when unemployment across the U.S. economy has skyrocketed. Grocery workers now are seen as essential workers, even heroes. At times they even have received extra hazard pay. And yet media reports also are full of stories of ongoing low wages and poor working conditions, severe health risks, and employer retaliation against workers who speak out. These challenges are even greater for grocery and delivery workers hired as independent contractors, who have no legal employment protections, unstable earnings and hours, low levels of access to health insurance, challenges obtaining personal protective equipment, and legal and administrative barriers to accessing unemployment insurance should they not be able to work.
What are the broader implications of the recent surge in grocery e-commerce work? Will these jobs continue to expand beyond the pandemic and, if so, by how much? What kinds of wages and working conditions exist in different segments of the industry? What changes should people in more traditional grocery store jobs anticipate? As grocery e-commerce continues to grow, what options exist to improve working conditions for the workers affected by this trend?
- This Labor Day, we are reminded that there are still anti-labor policies on the books in Georgia that diminish worker power and economic opportunity for all.
- Unions play a significant role in shaping a better future for Georgia’s workers, their families and the economy overall.
Why it matters
At the expense of low-wage workers, those who wield more than their fair share of corporate and political power have facilitated and benefited from a historic rise in racial and economic inequality. Policymakers and business interests have collaborated long enough through state and local policies to make Georgia simultaneously the No. 1 place to do business and home of the No. 1 place for income inequality.
The weakening of labor protections in Georgia allowed for policies like Georgia’s Senate Bill (SB) 359 to ram through this legislative session. This bill shields businesses from liability by creating a near-impossible standard to prove gross negligence if a worker contracts COVID-19 on the job. In other words, state lawmakers bolstered protections for employers, but not for the people they employ who were forced to return to work prematurely during a deadly pandemic in a state with one of the highest infection rates, particularly among Black and Latinx Georgians.
Labor unions are a time-tested way for workers to organize and negotiate collectively for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions.
By advocating for better conditions in their own workplaces, unions also set standards for workers throughout the country. While union membership has declined since the 1960s, unions are still key to building a stronger, fairer economy for working Americans.
- August 30, 2019
- Laura Dresser & Joel Rogers
Each year on Labor Day, COWS draws a picture of how working people in Wisconsin are faring. The long report, The State of Working Wisconsin, is released biannually on even-numbered years and looks at the economy comprehensively from a working-family perspective. In odd-numbered years, like 2019, we provide a more abbreviated and focused report, called The State of Working Wisconsin: Facts & Figures.
On some of the most well-known economic indicators, there is good news for Wisconsin workers. The unemployment rate in the state has been consistently low. The economy is steadily adding jobs. These are important measures for working people’s lives. When jobs are more available not only is it easier to secure a job, it is also easier to get the hours of work you want, to be able to ask for time-off you need, and to make ends meet. This Labor Day, with the memory of the Great Recession of 2007 now fading from memory, workers across Wisconsin have this good news to celebrate.
Even so, many working families in the state feel stressed and stretched. In this report, then, we provide information on few key long-term trends that are contributing to the stress even in the context of low unemployment. Looking across the last forty years, the challenges working people face are clear. Wage growth has been anemic. Income inequality is reaching new highs. Unions, which have been so critical to supporting workers in this state, are in serious decline. Additionally, state policy, which could be helping to close gaps, is actually exacerbating these trends. From tax changes that reward our highest income families to rejection of health insurance to cover our families in need, policy continues to pave the low-road for our state.