As retail stores close nationwide due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, corporations have begun to lay off workers by the thousands. Those who are not being laid off potentially face time off without pay, coupled with the uncertainty of when they will return to work. According to the United Nations International Labor Organization, the coronavirus pandemic could result in the loss of almost 25 million jobs worldwide. In order to continue paying employees amidst the pandemic and ensure employees are paid fully, Columbia Sportswear Co. announced that chief executive officer (CEO) Tim Boyle has reduced his pay to $10,000 a year. In addition, the retailer said that at least 10 of the company’s top executives have volunteered to take a 15% pay reduction, the Associated Press reported.
The sportswear company owns other brands including Sorel, Mountain Hardware, and Prana. While it has closed all retail stores, the company says it has not laid off any of its employees nationwide. Under what is called a “catastrophic pay” plan, the company is continuing to pay employees their regular salaries. “Columbia has been in business since 1938 and has weathered many storms by keeping our focus on the well-being of consumers, employees and the larger community,” Boyle said in a statement. At the time of the statement, the company announced all stores would be closed until April 10.
According to The Oregonian, Boyle made $3.3 million in 2018. His decision to take a pay cut followed the closing of Columbia stores nationwide on March 16, which risked over 3,000 employees losing their jobs or not getting paid. By cutting his salary, Boyle can allow for these employees to continue receiving their regular paychecks, Mary Ellen Glynn, Columbia’s director of corporate communications said.
“Columbia Sportswear has been in business for 81 years. It may be a publicly-traded company, but it’s mostly owned by the Boyle family,” Glynn said, according to CNN. “They’ve had crises before and they’ve weathered through it by standing together. That’s the culture of the company.”
Other executives have followed suit to keep their employees paid during the pandemic including Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments. In 2015, Price went viral for cutting his $1.1 million salary to $70,000 in order to pay his employees the same amount, the Today Show reported. Price announced on Twitter Saturday that he would be taking no salary in order to ensure he does not lay off any employees. “5 years ago I cut my CEO pay from $1.1M to $70k so I could pay all my employees at least $70k,” he wrote. “That’s not good enough anymore. Today I cut my pay to $0. I’m committed to laying off 0 of our employees. It’s not much but it’s what I can do. We’ll get through this together.”
News of company executives slashing their salaries to ensure working people are paid and secure during this pandemic is a heartening development. Many corporations are conducting massive layoffs in order to save themselves, and hearing about those who put workers first shows true leadership. According to CNN, other executives from companies including Ford, Marriott, and Dick’s Sporting Goods have taken similar measures to ensure employees are not laid off or given pay cuts.
Corporations have the responsibility to support their employees during a pandemic. The coronavirus crisis reminds us of the different privileges some of us have, including the ability to work from home. Many individuals, especially working-class people, are unable to work from home, much less provide for their families as companies nationwide close their doors.
Social distancing and quarantine mandates highlight the economic gap in our society. The ability to work from home, be safe, and have food are all aspects of privilege associated with access. Without access to work or paid leave, thousands of Americans suffer consequences that go beyond health during this pandemic. It is essential, at this time especially, for corporations and companies to step up and provide for the workers who have committed countless hours to their profits.
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