News Release

Billionaire Wealth vs. Community Health

CHUCK COLLINS, via Olivia Alperstein, olivia@ips-dc.org, @inequalityorg; or Sara Myklebust as liaison to connect workers for interviews, Sara.Myklebust@georgetown.edu

Collins is director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author of the new report “Billionaire Wealth vs. Community Health.”

It finds that essential workers continue to suffer as U.S. billionaires gain almost $1 trillion during the pandemic, stating that “A handful of billionaires and corporations have seen their wealth surge to record levels, in part as a result of their monopoly status and opportunism during the pandemic.

“For example, Walmart, Target, and Amazon benefited from their monopoly positions in the economy, with these three retailers considered ‘essential’ while their retail competitors were shut down. But the success of these businesses hasn’t translated into better pay or safer working conditions for the employees showing up to work in a pandemic.

“Meanwhile, private equity firms have bought up essential businesses in the health care, grocery, and pet care industries, only to aggressively cut costs, skimp on worker safety, and load companies up with debt to boost their own profits.

“Hundreds of thousands of essential workers employed by these companies have remained vulnerable and exposed. These frontline workers risk their lives every day to do the work that increases already obscene corporate wealth.”

This report focuses on a list of 12 emblematic bad actors. Here are the first six:

1. Walmart: Three owners of Walmart — Rob, Jim, and Alice Walton — have seen their combined personal wealth increase over $48 billion. In 2018, Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillion made 1,118 times the pay of Walmart’s median worker. Yet Walmart refuses to provide hazard pay to its workers.

2. Amazon: The wealth of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has increased by 62 percent since mid-March, totaling $188.3 billion as of November 17. Bezos is now the richest person on earth. Meanwhile an estimated 20,000 Amazon workers have been infected with COVID-19.

3. Instacart: CEO and founder Apoorva Mehta became an instant billionaire in June 2020. Yet Instacart has over-hired 300,000 new workers and failed to provide sufficient protections.

4. Tyson Foods: John H. Tyson, the billionaire owner of Tyson Foods, has seen his personal wealth increase over $600 million since the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile an estimated 11,000 Tyson workers have been infected with COVID-19. [See: “Lawsuit: Tyson managers bet money on how many workers would contract COVID-19.”]

5. Target: Target CEO Brian Cornell is paid 821 times the median worker at Target. The company has enjoyed a protected status as its competition was shut down during the pandemic as “nonessential.” The company enacted an already promised $2 increase in its starting wage, but also cut the pay of its Target-owned Shipt delivery workers.

6. Dollar General and Dollar Tree (BlackRock Investment): Dollar Tree CEO Gary Philbin is paid 690 times his median paid worker. Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos is paid 824 times his median paid worker. The companies have profited tremendously during the pandemic, but understaffed stores and skimpy security pose some of the many risks to workers — including an increase in assaults when Dollar Store workers were attacked for asking customers to wear masks. The investment fund giant BlackRock has a large ownership stake in both companies.”

 

IPS published additional recommendations to reduce extreme wealth and power in its April report, “Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes and Pandemic Profiteers.”