'Tell them to sign up for food stamps': AutoZone workers struggle while execs spend billions on stock buybacks

AutoZone, an auto parts and accessory retailer, has over 6,000 stores around the US.

During the pandemic, the company kept stores open and according to at least one store manager, has hired the union busting law firm Ogletree Deakins to send out employee surveys in response to increased complaints from workers about working conditions during the pandemic.

In California, an AutoZone store manager I spoke with under the condition of anonymity in fear of retaliation explained problems within the company worsened during the pandemic, such as cutting workers’ hours as a tool for punishment, pushing people to show up to work during the pandemic and downplaying COVID-19 diagnoses to ensure stores remain open.

“If people ask for raises because they are not making ends meet, I have been directed to tell them to sign up for food stamps,” said the manager. “The company refuses to react to the challenges the stores face. If you’re short staffed you’re expected to just stay no matter what, no lunch, no breaks no relief.”

He explained sales soared during the pandemic, but understaffing amid sixty hour work weeks for employees have been common. Throughout the pandemic, AutoZone has experienced surges in sales compared to 2019.

In July 2020, a worker from Goshen, New York accused his AutoZone retail location of hiding his coronavirus diagnosis from colleagues and the public, not following its own coronavirus guidance. AutoZone has faced recent lawsuits from workers alleging untimely wages and lack of overtime compensation.

In December 2020, AutoZone authorized an additional $1.5 billion in stock buybacks. Since 1998, the company has spent over $24 billion on stock buybacks.

“AutoZone is one of the lowest paying retailers in the country with poor high deductible health insurance that is out of reach for most employees due to cost,” the manager added. “With all the suffering in the stores, employees suffering due to COVID-19, dangerous work conditions, and extremely low wages, the company still authorized $1.5 billion in buybacks this year on top of the $678 million they did last quarter. All this while telling us that we should be grateful for the week worth of COVID pay they gave this year for full time employees and less for part time.”