Pandemic pay bonuses are going to executives, instead of the front-line workers taking all the risks

Posted on April 26, 2021 in Equality Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributors
April 26, 2021.  

To hear executives at two of Canada’s largest retailers and a private long-term-care home chain tell it, they did a pretty bang up job handling the pandemic — and promptly wrote themselves hefty bonus cheques to prove it.

We’re talking about millions in bonuses, on top of salaries that already put them in the top one per cent.

It was, to be blunt, a disgusting display of corporate greed in a difficult year. One that saw front-line staff struggle to get by on meagre salaries and their pandemic pay cut prematurely — all while worrying about contracting COVID-19 on the job and bringing it home to their families.

Retail workers and long-term-care staff have been on the front lines of the pandemic — putting themselves at risk to make sure the rest of us can get the food and other products we need, and taking care of our aging loved ones when we could no longer visit.

They continue to work long and gruelling hours, and have been among the most vulnerable in our society to catching COVID-19. They can’t work from home, and have been denied paid sick days or even time off to get a vaccination so they can stay healthy.

These are the people who deserve a bonus. They are the ones that earned a reward for getting through the past year.

At Canadian Tire, executive bonuses were instead boosted by almost 8 per cent overall, on top of salaries already in the stratosphere — and where the top executive makes more in a week than his front-line staff take home all year.

Chief executive Greg Hicks, for example, took home $4.49 million — more than $86,000 a week — including $932,596 in salary and a $949,224 bonus.

His bonus was more than his salary.

Loblaw showed a kind of restraint by comparison, if not in actual fact — declaring that it would limit all bonuses to 150 per cent of targets, instead of the usual 200 per cent, because of COVID.

Such modesty.

Loblaw had record sales as people cooked at home, but slightly lower profits due to “increased costs to ensure the safety and security of customers and colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

By “colleagues,” Loblaw means grocery store staff who do all the work and take all the risk.

Company president Sarah Davis made $4.53 million, including a million-dollar salary and a bonus of $1.35 million — again, more than her salary.

This is the same company that led the way in cutting pandemic pay for workers last summer, saying the threat from the first wave of the pandemic was abating.

The pandemic pay should never have been cut, did not come back when the second wave hit and is nowhere to be seen as a third and worse wave sweeps the country. Sobey’s, to its credit, brought back pandemic pay.

At Chartwell, it’s even worse.

At this private sector chain of long-term-care homes, the executives “gave themselves perfect scores” for their handling of the pandemic, according to the Globe and Mail, and handed out bonuses at 86 per cent of targets — more than in 2019 before the pandemic.

Chief executive Vlad Volodarski made $1.91 million, including a $323,967 bonus — more than twice what he made in 2019 as chief financial officer. Bonuses for three other top executives were $187,187 and $207,627 for total paycheques between $1.04 million and $1.17 million.

Believe it or not, that’s not even the bad part.

At the same time that executives at Chartwell — Canada’s largest operator of retirement and long-term-care homes — were writing each other big cheques, they were outright rejecting a shareholder proposal to study the possibility of a living wage for their staff.

Think about that. They weren’t even being asked to actually pay a living wage — hardly a huge ask in itself. They were only being asked to look into the possibility of doing it, and they said no.

Blaming COVID, of all things, they said they couldn’t even entertain the idea of paying a living wage — at the same time citing COVID as the reason to boost the already hefty bonuses of executives.

As with Canadian Tire and Loblaw, this is truly a case of the bonuses going to the wrong people.

Jerry Dias is national president of Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union.

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