Costco employees describe a frantic workplace as panic shoppers overrun stores and coronavirus cases mount at corporate headquarters
- From the corporate offices to the warehouse stores, Costco employees are weathering a storm of unprecedented consumer demand during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Business Insider spoke to seven employees in Costco stores in Texas, Illinois, Utah, Washington, Idaho, and on the East Coast, as well as three employees who work at the company's corporate offices in Issaquah, Washington.
- "It's been exhausting," an employee in a Utah store said. "I've never seen our shelves, our stocks, so bare before."
- At least three employees have tested positive for the coronavirus at Costco's corporate offices in Issaquah, Washington.
- Costco declined to comment for this article, but CFO Richard Galanti told Business Insider for a previous story that Costco is actively trying to figure out the best ways to take care of its employees.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
From a business perspective, the last month has been extraordinary for Costco. Consumer demand at the members-only warehouse store was high in late February, thanks to panic-buyers flocking to the stores in droves.
For the employees in the company's stores and corporate offices across the US, the story is less glamourous. In the last few weeks, workers at various levels of Costco have reached out to Business Insider with their accounts as the coronavirus rips across the country.
"It's just insane," an employee in an East Coast store who has worked for Costco for 13 years told Business Insider, describing what it's like to work at an "essential" business in a time of crisis.
This worker, along with six other employees in Costco store in Texas, Illinois, Utah, Washington, Idaho, and on the East Coast, and three employees at the company's corporate offices in Issaquah, Washington, spoke to Business Insider on the condition of full or partial anonymity in order to speak frankly without fear of reprisal. In all of these cases, their identities were verified and made known to Business Insider.
Costco declined to comment for this story.
'It's been exhausting'
As people around the world make an effort to stay indoors, Costco employees, deemed essential by the Department of Homeland Security, are still expected to show up to work.
"It's been exhausting," an employee in a Utah store said. "I've never seen our shelves, our stocks, so bare before."
Some employees acknowledged that Costco has been doing its best to control the chaos. In addition to limiting the number of people allowed inside its stores at a time, placing purchase restrictions and barring returns on in-demand items, the store is increasing sanitizing efforts and, in some cases, attempting to enforce six-foot spaces between each person in stores.
An employee in an East Coast store said his location has even stopped allowing cake orders in an effort to limit the use of the pen with which orders are placed.
Still, warehouse employees described a scenario in which the company they have mostly enjoyed working for has led them to feel overworked and generally underprotected.
An employee in an Illinois store said that when it comes to limiting the number of people in the warehouse, that number limit does not typically include the employees who are working there.
"Many times there are big lines outside the store or inside by the register, which is exactly what should be avoided so the virus does not spread," the Illinois employee said.
Costco has not offered additional sick leave for employees
Costco announced on Monday that it would pay its employees an extra $2 an hour for their work during the coronavirus outbreak.
But while other companies like Target and Walmart have announced updated paid-leave policies for workers during the outbreak, Costco has not announced any additional paid time off for its employees. However, the company is reportedly waiving its policies towards additional absences at this time.
"Our leaders in the company have dropped the ball," an employee in an East Coast store said. "We are thanked for maintaining the standards of Costco but are not assured that we will be compensated fairly if we contract the virus."
Other employees expressed a similar frustration with the company's sick leave and time-off policy.
"I'm told I can have a 2 weeks no pay off or burn through my sick and [paid time off]," a 52-year-old hearing aid specialist, who works in a Washington warehouse in Costco and says she has a heart condition, said. "Great vacation."
Costco CFO Richard Galanti told Business Insider that Costco is actively trying to figure out the best ways to take care of its employees and that the $2-an-hour pay bump was something the company had been trying to figure out for a bit.
At least three employees have tested positive for coronavirus at Costco's corporate offices in Washington
At Costco's corporate offices in Issaquah, Washington, workers are fielding issues of their own.
The company's headquarters are still not fully closed, even though a Costco Travel employee on the campus died on Sunday, March 15, after testing positive for the virus. Two more confirmed cases of COVID-19 were discovered on the company's campus on March 19.
"Everyone's really anxious," a Costco Travel employee close to the worker who died told Business Insider previously. This employee said that the company is gradually transitioning to a work-from-home setup.
Galanti told Business Insider on Monday that of the 8,000 employees on Costco's corporate campus, 80% were working from home. He said that figure should go up to 90% by the end of this week.
Another employee in Costco's corporate offices said that the company has yet to close its buffet-style delis for employees on campus because they are considered an essential service.
"We were literally in full panic mode until they gave us the laptops [to work from home]," the Costco Travel employee said, describing how employees went from hushed, confused conversations in the office hallways to a mad sprint to get out of the building after the announcement of the first employee's death on March 16.
Another Costco Travel employee told Business Insider that after the first case of coronavirus on campus was discovered, people were given laptops to work from home on a priority basis, depending on their job.
This employee was critical of this transition to work from home, saying it has been slow and mishandled.
"They had the ability to have people work from home for a while," this employee said, expressing frustration at the entire situation, which she described as chaotic and slow.
Like Costco's store workers, these corporate employees said they feel overlooked by the company many of them once considered family.
"It makes us feel like we're really, like nothing," this Costco Travel employee said. "It makes me so sad."
Get the latest coronavirus analysis and research from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is impacting businesses.
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