Louisiana’s Largest Employer Rakes In Billions While Failing to Protect Workers

One of Louisiana’s largest employers has earned billions in profits during the pandemic – but that hasn’t translated into higher pay or safer working conditions for its employees. According to a new report published by the Institute for Policy Studies, in partnership with Step Up Louisiana and others, a handful of billionaire companies – including Walmart, which employs over 34,000 people in Louisiana – have seen their profits soar to record levels as a result as their monopoly status as an essential business during the pandemic.

According to the report, the owners of Walmart – Rob, Jim, and Alice Walton – have seen a combined personal wealth increase of over $48 billion during the pandemic. Walmart’s CEO makes more than 1,118 times the average Walmart employee, and yet, the company refused to provide hazard pay to its workers. Because they are deemed “essential” during the pandemic, these workers have had to put themselves at considerable risk of illness in spite of not receiving paid sick leave, or in many cases medical benefits.

Walmart is only one of what the report calls the “Delinquent Dozen” – 12 companies whose profits have soared at the expense of their workers and communities. Other companies listed are Amazon, Instacart, Tyson Foods, Target, Dollar General and Dollar Tree, Prospect Health, TeamHealth, Envision Health, Cerberus Capital (owners of Albertons, Safeway, and Steward Health), Petsmart, and Petco. Ten of the billionaire owners of seven of the companies named in the report have seen their combined personal wealth increase by $127.5 billion.

Meanwhile, essential workers and their families and communities are exposed to a surge in COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations worse than the initial wave of the pandemic. As of November 22, there have been 12.2 million cases of the virus reported in the United States, 220,192 of them in Louisiana. There have been 6,260 COVID-19 related deaths in the state. In spite of this, state lawmakers, overwhelmingly Republican, have repeatedly fought Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards on basic safety measures such as a statewide mask mandate.

“Hundreds of thousands of essential workers employed by these companies have remained vulnerable and exposed. These frontline workers risk their lives every day to do the work that increases already obscene corporate wealth,” the report states.

In order to mitigate some of the risk to essential workers during the pandemic, the report calls on “Delinquent Dozen” and other companies to protect their workers by making several policy changes, including:

  • Immediately implementing hazard pay of at least $5 per hour
  • Providing substantial paid sick leave for workers
  • Provide paid bereavement leave for those whose family members die of COVID-19
  • Provide and regularly replace high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) at no cost to workers
  • Establish workplace health councils to assist in actively monitoring workplace safety.

In addition, the report calls on policymakers to mass measures requiring companies to take steps to protect their workers, establishing a Pandemic Profiteering Oversight Committee that goes beyond overseeing stimulus funds. They have also called on lawmakers to impose conditions on any corporation receiving federal pandemic financial support, requiring them to retain their workers, preserve worker rights, and put in place policies and procedures to protect workers from virus exposure.

Download the full report here.

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