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Heroes in theory, peons in practice

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Just as so many politicians gave up before crushing the curve with disastrous results, corporations are starting to pull back pandemic-related benefits even though the pandemic is worse than ever:

At the outset of the pandemic, Eva was pretty impressed with how the Texas Starbucks where she works sprang into action. It offered $3 an hour in hazard pay for those who came in and “catastrophe pay” for workers who stayed home.

“At first, I think they did really well,” she said.

But things have changed. The pay bump wound down at the end of May, after which workers were offered three choices: keep their jobs at likely reduced hours, take an unpaid leave of absence through September, or take a separation package. Her store has since started back up with “happy hours,” five-hour buy-one-get-one specials that entice customers to pack into the cafe to score a deal.

One of Eva’s colleagues, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told me the happy hour crowd “throws every safety protocol we have out the door.”

“It feels like now, Starbucks just is really trying to make its money back,” Eva said. “I didn’t expect this.”

When the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in the United States this spring, companies jumped on the opportunity to advertise the ways they were supporting their customers and workers. The commercials became repetitive and indiscerniblefrom one another, but corporate America’s message was clear: We’re all in this together.

Now companies have begun quietly rolling back many of the benefits, perks, and allowances they so loudly announced earlier this year. The state of the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t materially different than it was a few months ago — arguably, it’s now more widespread and worse. But corporations seem ready to move on.

“It’s just unclear that we could point to anything that’s different that would provide a reason to think that companies had strong moral reasons to be taking these steps in March and April, and that somehow those reasons are now gone,” said Brian Berkey, an assistant professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The need for a large federal relief bill could not be more urgent, but as we’ll get to later today it’s not like Republicans plan to act anytime soon.

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