From CEO Bill Hallan: At MRA, essential work goes on. Just differently.

By BILL HALLAN

This morning I stopped to get coffee on my way into the office and I immediately wiped the cup down with a Clorox wipe. Who does that? I guess I do now. Hopefully we all do. We have 35 employees at Michigan Retailers and we’ll have less than 5 in the office today.

When Governor Whitmer issued her Stay at Home Executive Order on March 23, we identified our “critical infrastructure workers” and the essential services we provide. Your credit card payments will continue to process, your workers’ compensation policies will be serviced, and we’re ready to answer your health insurance questions. Through our Ask Us First program , team members are working around the clock to educate members about federal, state and local rules that are seemingly flooding out by the hour (Questions? Email askusfirst@retailers.com).

Like many employers, we have implemented strict social distancing requirements. That’s a new phrase in our lexicon, along with “flatten the curve.” We’ve set our employees up with remote access and we’ve developed rolling schedules for in-office work of critical employees to limit in-person contact. Fortunately, we can continue to service our members through various forms of electronic communications. However, many employers, retailers included, don’t have this luxury and the massive shutdown is cutting deep.

The sheer speed of this pandemic is perhaps the most shocking development. The escalation of decision-making is unfathomable. When March Madness was cancelled, many thought it was a massive overreaction. Now it is merely a blip on the radar of more drastic decisions.

To balance closures, lay offs, and the slowing economy, the state and federal government have implemented a number of different programs available to employers and employees to help weather the storm. The lists are too long to cover entirely in this column, but here are the highlights. Visit our website – retailers.com – for more details and resources.

  • State
    • Expansion of unemployment benefits
    • Expansion of the state’s work share program
    • Expansion of WIC and SNAP programs
    • Delay of sales tax payments
  • Federal
    • Paid leave and expanded coverage under the FMLA
    • Expanded unemployment insurance benefits
    • $2.2 trillion dollar stimulus package that includes direct checks to Americans, loans for small businesses, and significant tax relief
    • Delay of IRS tax payments from April 15 to July 15

In the face of adversity, retail has proven once again that it is an essential industry and retail employees have stepped up. Our members are working at full capacity to ensure that shelves are stocked, stores are cleaned and that Michigan residents have the products they need. Retailers have opened their parking lots for testing, offered curbside delivery, and developed flexible hours of operation to help the elderly.

In these challenging times, we are here to answer your questions. We are continuously updating our website with guidance and are pushing out information about government orders and employer resources. The night is darkest before the dawn. The storm is ugly, but retail is strong and we’ll get through this.

Be well.