The wealth of 650 American billionaires has increased by over $1tn since mid-March, the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns.
Who’s generating all this wealth? In many cases, it’s frontline retail, healthcare, and food workers who are underpaid and under-protected from the virus. These workers risk their lives every day to do the work that increases already obscene corporate wealth. And going into a holiday shopping season with cases exploding, the risk is only increasing.
Corporations and their billionaire beneficiaries must do more to protect essential workers going into this winter of pain. They should immediately provide, regularly replace, and upgrade high quality personal protective equipment (PPE) at no cost to all their essential workers. They should implement hazard pay of at least an extra $5 an hour. And they must provide substantial paid sick leave benefits for workers to stay home when ill and exposed.
In a new report we co-authored for the Institute for Policy Studies, Billionaire Wealth vs Community Health, it profiled what was call the “Delinquent Dozen” – companies whose owners and executives have seen their wealth and profits surge but have been laggards in protecting their workers.
The wealth of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has increased by over $70bn since mid-March, while an estimated 20,000 Amazon workers have been infected with Covid-19.
Three owners of Walmart – Rob, Jim, and Alice Walton – have seen their combined personal wealth increase by over $48.2bn since the beginning of the pandemic. Walmart refuses to provide hazard pay to its workers.
Apoorva Mehta, founder of Instacart, is now worth $1.6bn, and his wealth will surge when Instacart goes public in 2021. Yet workers at Instacart, which hired hundreds of thousands to meet surging demand, have said that the company failed to provide sufficient protections.
John H Tyson, the billionaire owner of Tyson Foods, has seen his personal wealth increase by over $600m since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, thousands of Tyson workers have been infected with Covid-19. At one Tyson plant in Iowa, supervisors have been accused of literally taking bets on how many workers would catch the virus. More than 1,000 workers at the now-shuttered plant were infected, and at least five died.
Big private equity firms like Blackstone, KKR, Cerberus Capital, BC Partners, and Leonard Green Partners, which own hundreds of companies. Their billionaire owners have seen their fortunes surge while the companies they own have repeatedly failed to protect their workers.
Blackstone, for example, owns TeamHealth, a company that demoted a whistleblower doctor who went public about the company’s lack of Covid-19 safety precautions. The company’s founder and CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, has seen his personal wealth increase by $4.1bn since March.
Cerberus Capital owns Albertsons and Safeway supermarkets, which employ thousands of essential workers. Hazard pay ended many months ago at Safeway, even as Covid-19 infections have increased by 161% at Safeway stores in the DC metro region alone. Meanwhile Steve Feinberg, the billionaire co-founder of Cerberus, has seen his personal wealth increase by $276m.
The contrast between billionaires making no sacrifice and their essential workers making the ultimate sacrifice is both unethical and corrupt.