Walmart Inc. is hiring 150,000 temporary workers to meet surging demand for everyday goods, as the U.S. retail giant prepares to start coronavirus tests in store parking lots this weekend.
The new employees will largely work in distribution centers and many will become permanent staff over time, Walmart said in a statement. The company is also slated to begin virus tests in the Chicago area as soon as Friday, in conjunction with health officials and drugstore chain Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc..
“Everything is ready to go,” Dan Bartlett, Walmart’s executive vice president of corporate affairs, said on a call with reporters. “We have the tents. It should be up and running soon.” The tests will be primarily for health-care workers and first responders.
While retailers such as Macy’s Inc., Kohl’s Corp. and J.C. Penney have been forced to temporarily close their stores, others like Walmart and Costco Wholesale Corp. are experiencing a surge in sales normally seen around the holiday peak.
Walmart’s supply chain was “catching its breath,” Bartlett said. Initial demand for water and paper products has shifted over to food, with many Americans needing to eat all of their meals at home as restaurants close.
“We’re trying to find where the new normal is,” Bartlett said. “We’re not sure we’ve hit it yet.”
The coronavirus testing is set to begin within 48 to 72 hours. Federal and state health officials will administer the tests initially, with Walmart staff “watching and learning,” Bartlett said. In time, Walmart’s pharmacists could carry out the swab tests, he said, but would never handle patient data.
“We don’t want people coming off the street and thinking they can get a test,” Bartlett said. “It will be an orderly process.”
Walmart has no plans to close any of its U.S. stores, Bartlett said. The company only had to shut down “maybe two” of its more-than 400 stores in China during the initial stages of the outbreak there, he said.
Walmart also said all U.S. hourly employees will receive a bonus on April 2 of $300 for full-time staff and $150 for part-timers. It will accelerate its next scheduled quarterly bonus payment, slated for May, to late April. The moves together will cost Walmart more than $545 million, slightly more than it makes in operating profit in the U.S. each week.