Why Waste Management isn't laying off workers during the coronavirus pandemic and guaranteeing pay

Brian Sozzi
Editor-at-Large

If you are an investor, you should be learning a lot about the leaders running businesses you may be invested in amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Now is the time to be grading them, and perhaps parting ways with some holdings if leaders aren’t cranking themselves up into an otherworldly gear during this global health crisis.

Some leaders I have talked with are going above and beyond to support workers during this trying time. Others are thinking more about their bottom lines than if workers are able to pay rent, health care and food costs. On the other hand, others have struck me as completely shell-shocked by the situation and are weeks behind in laying out a clear response plan.

It’s tough out there right now, I get it. But the job of being CEO or a member of the C-suite is in fact setting the tone for the rest of the organization. Those that get it right at this critical moment in time could be setting themselves up for a heck of profit recovery in 2021 and beyond driven by more loyal customer and employees bases.

One of those leaders that have stepped up is Waste Management CEO Jim Fish.

Fish took over as CEO of Waste Management in 2016 after 17 years inside the company. Within five minutes of talking to Fish for the first time in 2018, it became clear he bleeds yellow and green (Waste Management’s colors). True to form, Fish has taken a leadership position during the coronavirus on two fronts — the most important being with workers.

Fish has indefinitely guaranteed 40-hour workweek pay for his 45,000 employees. Not a single layoff. For Fish, it’s the right thing to do even if it comes at the expense of the bottom line.

“When I took the job back in 2016, one thing I said is we aren’t going to do any layoffs. And now it’s more important than ever. We have certainly protected the financial security of our 45,000 employees,” Fish said on Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade.

Close-up of gray trash bin with logo for recycling and landfill company Waste Management, San Ramon, California, February, 2019. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Fish continued, “What we are doing is taking cost out of other parts of the organization. We have told our hourly employees they may have gotten more than 40 hours a week previously under the non-coronavirus environment and they are not necessarily guaranteed they will get those extra hours. But we are putting this 40-hour backstop behind them. What I didn’t want is to have our employees worrying how they were going to pay rent or put food on the table. This kind of takes a huge weight off of their shoulders so they can do their jobs as well as they can.”

As for Fish’s second initiative tied to the coronavirus, he is lending a hand to the small businesses that are being hammered by the crisis. Small businesses are a critical customer base for Waste Management.

“For our small customers, we are going to commit to a month of free service to help them get their feet back on the ground. That’s a big financial commitment from our standpoint, but I think it bulls loyalty from those customers and they appreciate the fact we aren’t just there to charge them as soon as they get their feet back on the ground.”

All of this is good business. But above all else, it’s just the right thing to do. I encourage other CEOs to give Fish a phone call or hit him up on Twitter @jimfishwm for advice.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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