Why The Big Decision Aldi Just Made Is So Important

As we enter the second month of pandemic living, we are beginning to recognize a new kind of hero. Whoever thought that working in the service industry could be so stressful, so dangerous, and yet so absolutely crucial? While brave medical professionals are struggling to save lives, equally brave, yet far more poorly-paid, fast food employees and grocery store workers are struggling to keep us all fed.

Even some corporations are stepping up to do the right thing, recognizing that the smallest cogs in their wheels are actually some of the most vital ones. It's not the corporate head honchos, after all, who are out there on the front lines exposing themselves to who knows what germs without even any hand sanitizer left to protect them — no, the ones taking all the risks are the workers making barely above minimum wage. Budget-minded grocer Aldi, known for cost-cutting measures like requiring shoppers to bring their own bags, is putting people above profits during the current crisis — Retail Gazette shared Aldi's unprecedented announcement that it will not only be giving its employees a 10 percent pay raise, but that this raise will be backdated to cover all hours worked since March 9.

How Aldi's actions were echoed by other retailers

Aldi, a chain based in Europe, is acting not just locally but globally, as their pay raise is intended for employees at all their worldwide locations affected by coronavirus — which is to say, anywhere on the planet. (Ok, so Tajikistan, North Korea, and the Solomon Islands have no confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to The Diplomat, but then, they're also lacking in Aldis.)

In the U.S., Aldi's response to the coronavirus crisis has been echoed by retailers who are also pledging to do right financially by their employees as well as taking steps to ensure their safety. Business Insider reported that Albertson's, BJ's, Costco, Walmart, Target, and Amazon would be boosting worker pay by $2 per hour for varying amounts of time, while convenience chain Sheetz is upping pay by $3. Starbucks is also offering $3 per hour for employees still on the job while continuing to pay workers unable or unwilling to work their shifts at this time. Trader Joe's, aka Aldi's brother by another mother, isn't being quite as transparent with its generosity, but the chain has established a "special bonus pool" of money that will be divided up amongst employees based upon the amount of hours worked.

Other steps Aldi is taking to ensure worker safety

Grocery shopping and social distancing can be kind of difficult to reconcile — it's hard enough to keep six feet apart in crowded aisles (Today suggests that six feet = two shopping carts), but when you get to the checkout counter, you and the cashier are likely a little more social, and a little less distant, than is good for either of you. While Aldi cannot physically expand its store space to allow for extra space, the chain is doing what they can. The Dayton Daily News reports that Aldi is installing plexiglass partitions of the sneeze guard variety at both checkout and self-check areas and that they are also adding floor decals that will indicate the proper social distancing area for customers.

Aldi's website lists certain additional precautions they are putting in place to keep both workers and shoppers safe. Items will no longer be transferred from one cart to another at checkout, but instead, each shopper will keep the same cart throughout their store visit. These carts will also undergo rigorous sanitizing procedures throughout the day. Aldi is also trying to source protective masks for its employees and has already shipped out disposable gloves that they can use.

The true significance of Aldi's action

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Aldi was offering paid sick leave to all of its employees. According to a report by The New York Times on March 14, this is a rare policy for grocery chains, with Costco as the only other major retail grocer to offer sick leave as a standard benefit. Darden Restaurants (the group that owns Olive Garden and other restaurants), has thus far been the only other major retailer to announce a permanent paid sick leave program going forward. Under current conditions, Supermarket News reports that Aldi is even adjusting its sick leave policy to allow employees further leeway to stay home if they're not feeling well. In order to ensure that their stores stay fully staffed, Aldi has hired an additional 7,500 workers so far, and plan to keep right on hiring. 

While some corporations are still acting like greedy jerks (Burger King, yes, we are judging you even if the decision to slash pay rates was eventually reversed), it is to be hoped that more businesses both small and large will go the Aldi route. The best PR, after all, comes from just doing the right thing, and it's a win for employers and employees both.