Pet adoption on the rise amid pandemic – but workers accuse retailers of abuse | Retail business

As the coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in demand for pets and pet supplies, workers at the two largest pet retailers in the United States, PetSmart and Petco, say their companies have denied giving a risk premium throughout the pandemic, cutting staff and increasing workloads to stay employed, while planning decisions to make their Wall Street investors richer.

Demand for pet supplies has increased during the pandemic as Americans working remotely and social distancing have contributed to an increase in pet adoptions in the United States.

In September 2020, Bloomberg announced that the owners of Petco, private equity firm CVC Capital Partners and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, were considering an initial public offering or sale in 2021. , with an estimated retail chain value of $ 6 billion, including debt.

The private equity firm that owns PetSmart and Chewy announced in October 2020 its intention to split the two companies three years after a merger and acquisition. Workers say the deal will leave PetSmart with more debt while siphoning $ 11 billion from Wall Street investors by transferring PetSmart’s stake in Chewy to themselves. Chewy has seen its stock price more than double during the coronavirus pandemic.

Retail worker TJ Daniels, who worked at Petco in Dillon, Colorado, for about four years saw his hours and workload increase dramatically when the pandemic struck, as several employees were put on leave, took medical leave or had to self-quarantine. All Petco retail stores have remained open throughout the pandemic.

“The lack of employees made the job very difficult and stressful as you have to do the workload of extra workers while dealing with the extra people in the store because everyone was stocking dog food and coming to buy. animals, ”Daniels said.

He had a planned increase of 50 cents an hour which was revoked, and only received a 30 cents an hour increase recently. “We did not receive any risk premium. They tried to give us little bonuses here and there, one of mine was $ 24. Managers received $ 200 and regular store workers received $ 75. It doesn’t help at all, ”he said.

Daniels has been pushing for better coronavirus safety protections throughout the pandemic, for the store to limit hours and employ an employee to monitor and enforce capacity, and for paid time off for quarantine. He said workers only get one paid week for quarantine, with the second week forcing employees to use their accumulated paid time off or they would be granted paid time off that workers would have to reimburse to the company.

He was one of many United for Respect workers who signed a letter to Petco owners in response to news of a possible first public offering or sale, asking Petco to provide workers with a risk premium, healthcare and a voice on the company’s board of directors. .

Kris Blotzer, who works as a Petco warehouse in Greenville, South Carolina, also signed the letter. He explained that during the pandemic, workloads increased dramatically, while his salary remained at $ 9 an hour.

“I was making $ 9 an hour for killing myself,” Blotzer said. “I was preparing and packing 100 orders a day and most of the time I couldn’t complete them. “

Phil Andrews, who worked as a dog groomer at Petco for 13 years in Miami, Florida, also detailed the harsh conditions.

“We don’t have the staff to monitor and enforce the wearing and cleaning of the mask,” Andrews said. “They’re launching new ad campaigns, they want us to sell their pet insurance plans now, but never talked about the risk premium. They are asking us to do more and not be strict about safety for us.

A spokesperson for Petco said the company has supplied extensive personal protective equipment to its 27,000 employees in the United States.

“As our business began to rebound, we ended our scheduled time off and pay cut earlier and returned to strategic hiring to accommodate the continued growth of our business,” said the door. -speak in an e-mail. “We have also invested $ 13 million in additional compensation for our teams in the field, including five rounds of Covid appreciation bonuses; we invested $ 7 million in additional paid time off related to Covid; and we created the Petco Partner Assistance fund with over $ 2 million in seed funding from the company and its executives.

Petco and PetSmart would not provide their starting hourly wages for associates, but according to Payscale, the average salary for retail associates at Petco is $ 9.86 per hour and $ 10.06 per hour at PetSmart .

PetSmart, owned by private equity firm BC Partners, has struggled in recent years with billions of dollars in debt. During the pandemic, PetSmart initially refused to shut down its dog grooming services in many areas of the United States, although the services were considered non-essential in some areas.

PetSmart employee in San Antonio, Texas for more than three years, Alex Ludwig, said her store’s cashiers were laid off when the pandemic started, while all remaining employees except managers suffered reductions in their working hours.

“My hours personally have dropped from 10 to 20 hours a week,” Ludwig said. “It has been insane, much worse than any Black Friday sales we’ve had and customers are not respecting any social distancing.”

Ludwig was among dozens of current and former PetSmart workers who signed a letter to company ownership in July 2020 asking for a worker risk premium, health care benefits, and adequate personal protective equipment.

She resigned in September 2020 after months of complaints and concerns ignored by management.

A spokesperson for PetSmart told The Guardian the company has invested millions of dollars to provide personal protective equipment for associates.

“We have paid over $ 20 million in additional compensation to our frontline associates since the start of the pandemic. This includes special thank you bonuses, payment of health care bonuses and other health care benefits, ”they said in an email. “We also made a $ 1 million contribution to the long-standing PetSmart Associate Assistance Foundation to support frontline workers facing personal or financial hardship, and established a $ 1 million scholarship fund for associates of color as part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion. ”

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