Photo Credit: H-E-B Newsroom
By Nélida Tello
Tribune of the People spoke to two H-E-B employees from Austin and Brownsville, Texas, respectively, who spoke about the work conditions they face, wages, and some of the company’s practices during the pandemic. H-E-B is a grocery store which operates mainly in Texas. It is also one of the largest companies in the US and is promoted by the bourgeoisie as a model employer and supposed community leader.
The Austin employee told Tribune that despite management being lenient at the beginning of the pandemic, workers are now penalized for calling in sick or for leaving work early due to feeling ill. Many employees do not call in despite being sick in fear of being let go. After eight ‘strikes’ workers are fired.
At the Brownsville location, management initially enforced COVID precautions, but, the employee told Tribune, the company’s priority is to increase profit. Safety measures have been mostly abandoned except for masks as time has passed. In Austin, a $2-per-hour increase for hazard pay was given to workers at the beginning of the pandemic, but this only lasted for a few months before it was stripped.
H-E-B tries to smooth over contradictions between the workers and owners by saying they are “family” or “partners,” but they are treated like employees at any other any capitalist enterprise. One employee told Tribune that middle-tier management closely supervise employees, questioning the number of times restrooms are used, and reported that managers hover over the checkout as a supervisory method, policing any type of leaning.
“Since I don’t have any family in the business I am not respected and [am] overlooked,” the Brownsville employee shared with Tribune. Employees are regularly given a raise after working six months for the company. The employee explained that “it took [him] nearly two years to receive a raise,” while those related to management receive raises at a faster pace.
The employees who work outside receive fewer raises and are paid less in comparison to cashiers and other inside workers.
The Brownsville employee told Tribune that his hours are inconsistent from week to week: “I can go from 30 to 15 hours and [management doesn’t] do much to help. In my department people’s hours are not secure,” he said.
Despite being one of the companies with slightly higher starting wages compared to the state minimum (for some positions), most low-level employees still have to work more than one job or more than 40 hours a week to get by. In Austin, some H-E-B employees work about 70 hours a week in order to survive the city’s high cost of living.
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