‘Every Day Is Frightening’: Working For Walmart Amid Covid-19 Crisis
Enlarge this image toggle caption Patrick Breen/AP Patrick Breen/AP
On Friday, Walmart stores closed for a three-day weekend to contain Covid-19. And the massive store chain has been giving employees time off to try to maintain social distancing.
It’s a huge struggle that has spread beyond the grocery stores.
Some of Walmart’s suppliers have been canceling orders and laying off employees. Others have told employees to work from home and then later canceled after it appeared Walmart might pull back.
While some of this might be just bad timing, Walmart is not at all surprised by the disruption. In fact, the company says it’s been preparing for the storm ever since it was first projected by The Wall Street Journal in early March.
“The coronavirus pandemic is not a surprise to me,” said Walmart CEO Doug McMillon at an investor conference Wednesday. He said it was a natural outcome of what he called a “very bad year” for the retail industry in 2020.
McMillon added: “The virus is having an impact on the economy much bigger than anybody would have thought.”
One thing we don’t know is how much of that impact would be temporary. Walmart has been providing hourly employees and other independent contractors some paid time off to stay at home. Even if they were to be kept at home for a long time, that would come with an enormous cost to the company. By one estimate, keeping all of its 1.4 million U.S. employees at home for an entire year would cost the company anywhere from $16 billion to $68 billion in lost sales at its U.S. stores alone.
We also don’t know how much of a problem Walmart’s supply chain disruptions are causing for other businesses. The head of the National Retail Federation on Thursday estimated that the impact of the outbreak on the retail industry already was the second biggest factor behind the collapse of retail sales in the first quarter of this year.
Meanwhile, Walmart says that in addition to having to reopen some stores for the three-day weekend, it is asking its suppliers to delay shipments as well.
“We ask them to delay as