retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  From the Washington Post:

"The coronavirus outbreak that is quickly spreading throughout the country is forcing major American companies to rethink how they approach paid sick leave. More than 30 million U.S. workers — many of them low-wage service employees at restaurants, stores and airports — lack access to sick pay, raising fears that the epidemic could escalate if symptomatic workers do not feel that they can afford to take time off."

As the Trump administration works with Congress to formulate an economic package that will address these issues, "companies such as Walmart, Uber and Apple are among those announcing new policies that they say are designed to keep employees and customers safe from the coronavirus."

Some of the companies cited in the Post story:

- "Retail giant Walmart said Tuesday that it will not penalize workers who call in sick after an employee at a Kentucky store tested positive for the coronavirus. Employees who are diagnosed with covid-19 or placed in quarantine will receive up to two weeks of pay and will not be asked to dip into their paid leave during that time, the company said … If they’re not able to return to work after that time, additional pay replacement may be provided for up to 26 weeks for both full-time and part-time hourly associates."

- "The parent company of Olive Garden and Eddie V’s said Monday that it would begin offering up to 40 hours of paid sick leave annually to all hourly employees, making it one of the only major restaurant chains to do so. Executives said they had been considering the benefit for a while, but sped up the timeline because of the growing threat of the coronavirus."

- "Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft were among the first to announce coronavirus-related sick pay for affected drivers, who are technically independent contractors and have not previously qualified for paid leave or benefits. Uber this weekend said it will provide 14 days of sick pay for any drivers or delivery workers who are sick with the coronavirus or are required to be isolated, though it did not offer details on how it could calculate that pay."

- "Apple this week said it will begin providing unlimited paid leave to hourly employees, including those at its retail stores, who become sick with cold or flu symptoms similar to covid-19. The company is also urging corporate employees to work from home, and said it has 'increased cleaning protocols' at its stores."

"App-based grocery delivery service Instacart said it would offer up to 14 days of paid leave for any employee or contractor diagnosed with covid-19 or under mandatory quarantine by public health authorities. The company has more than 200,000 shoppers around the country, the vast majority of them independent contractors, who do not qualify for other types of paid sick leave … The company said it will also begin offering sick pay to its in-store shoppers — a small segment of its workforce that picks groceries but does not deliver them. Those workers, the company said, can earn one hour of sick pay for every 30 hours they work."

A lot of businesses may find themselves short of employees at a time when they already were facing a hiring crunch.  Which means that some of them - the smart ones - may have to start making dramatic enhancements to employee benefits packages if they are to remain viable and employers of choice.

•  The Seattle Times reports that Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced that the state will restrict gatherings - including meetings, concerts, and sporting events - of more than 250 people as a way of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The move is not expected to close the public schools, at least for now, though "many school districts have already begun canceling trips, assemblies and other large-scale events in an attempt to prevent exposure and spread of the virus."

The Times writes that "initially the prohibition would be imposed only in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, according to The Herald of Everett. The largest concentrations of confirmed coronavirus cases are in King and Snohomish counties."

•  Reuters reports that Amazon "has extended its work-from-home advisory to include employees in New York and New Jersey, the company said Monday … Its remote work recommendation for employees able to do so includes its Seattle headquarters, the San Francisco Bay Area and greater Milan, Italy through the end of March, the company said."

•  The annual Hall of Flowers B2B cannabis trade show - scheduled to take place in Southern California this year for the first time - has been postponed.

Scheduled for April 1-2, Hall of Flowers organizers said the decision was guided by recommendations from state and county public health officials.

"Looking ahead, retail and attendee registration will roll over to the next Hall of Flowers," organizer said.  "For our Brand partners, all contracts will also carry over to the next event.

"We want to assure you that we are already developing our contingency plan to reschedule this postponement and will announce the dates as soon as they are secured."

•  CNBC reports that Apple has reopened 38 of its 42 stores in China that were closed last month because of the coronavirus outbreak there.

According to the story, "Three stores in Tianjin, a major city in northwest China, and a retail location in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai, remain closed."

Some of the reopened stores are operating with limited hours.

More than 3,000 people in China have died from the COVID-19 coronavirus.

CNBC writes that "China is a critical market for Apple. The iPhone-maker warned that it would not meet the already wider-than-usual revenue guidance it gave for the March quarter of $63 billion to $67 billion … It’s unclear how badly supply has been hit so far. Foxconn, Apple’s partner in China which makes the iPhone, was forced to shut down its factories at the height of the outbreak. Just last week, the tech giant told investors that it had already returned to 50% of 'seasonal required capacity' and expects to be back to full capacity by the end of the month."

We can only hope that this is a harbinger of some good news going forward.

•  Advertising Age reports that "the coronavirus continues to alter daily work life, with a multitude of companies taking major steps to prepare for worst-case scenarios.

"Coca-Cola is asking all of its employees at its Atlanta headquarters to work from home today so that it can 'conduct a large-scale preparedness drill,' a spokeswoman told Ad Age. 'This is simply a drill to evaluate our business continuity plans and ensure that we would be able to operate effectively if we should ever need to close our offices at any time in the future.'

In addition, Hershey Co. is “discouraging participation in large group meetings internally and externally until further notice,” according to a spokesman. And plenty of companies are tightening their travel policies. Ford, for instance, has restricted all travel, both foreign and domestic, until April 17.

"General Mills has restricted all business travel to Italy, mainland China, South Korea and Iran. It says any other travel should be limited to business essential work, and when possible, meetings should be virtual or postponed. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles 'has instructed its employees that travel should be pre-approved by a member of the leadership team including both domestic and international trips,' according to a spokeswoman."

•  The Seattle Times reports that "Amazon executives approved a $5 million fund to support small businesses around its Seattle headquarters struggling with a dramatic slowdown since the company instructed its employees to work from home if they could."

The company said that it "will provide cash grants to businesses with fewer than 50 employees or less than $7 million in annual revenue that serve the public, rely on foot traffic, and have a physical presence 'within a few blocks of our Regrade and South Lake Union office buildings'."

At the same time, "Amazon pledged $1 million, joining Microsoft and other corporations, in establishing a fund with the Seattle Foundation aimed at softening the economic blow on people without health insurance or sick leave, residents with limited English proficiency, communities of color, and health care and gig economy workers."

Good for Amazon.  The number of small businesses, especially restaurants, that have opened in the South Lake Union area to serve Amazon and other tech companies is enormous, and I can only imagine the pain they are feeling now.  

•  Among the colleges and universities that reportedly have cancelled some or all in-person classes, moving lectures online, because of the coronavirus pandemic:

Harvard University, Princeton University, Columbia University, Yale University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, University of Southern California, University of San Francisco, San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, Palo Alto University, University of Washington, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, Northeastern University Seattle Campus, Bellevue College, Bellingham Technical College, Cascadia College, Everett Community College, Lake Washington Institute of Technology, Pacific Lutheran, University of Puget Sound, Washington State University Everett, New York University, Fordham University, Hofstra University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Amherst College, Syracuse University, American University, Rutgers University, Skidmore College, St. John’s University, The New School, Touro College, Yeshiva University, Monmouth University, Rowan University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Sacred Heart University, the University of New Haven, Rice University, Duke University, University of Florida, Vanderbilt University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland in Baltimore County, Loyola University of Maryland, Stevenson University, Towson University, Ohio State University, Grinnell College, Midland University of Nebraska, and Trinity College (in Dublin, Ireland).

•  From the Sacramento Bee:

"A prominent Northern California mega-church whose members believe their prayers heal the sick and raise the dead is advising the faithful to wash their hands, urging those who feel sick to stay home, canceling missionary trips and advising its faith healers to stay away from local hospitals.

"Bethel Church leaders say they’re in close contact with local health officials, but they’re not yet canceling services for the 6,300 people who attend services each week in Redding, one of the largest regular gatherings in far Northern California."

Really?  Because you'd think that battling a little coronavirus wouldn't be such a big deal for a sect that believes it can raise the dead.  It's enough to shake my faith in their belief.