It’s been a week since our last Coronavirus communication, as we’ve reached a stabilization period in terms of new changes and policies. As a leadership team, we’ve shifted from adjusting to a bevy of policy changes and executive orders to focusing on how we can best support our front-line teams over the coming weeks. Here are a few updates I want to pass along:
• We’ve appreciated the candid feedback that has come through WorkJam, email, or personal conversations. I am proud of the work you are all doing, the ideas you are sharing, and the concern you have for each other and our customers. We will never stop trying to find better and safer ways to do business during this pandemic and beyond.
• Regarding safety, we’ve updated signage at all stores and Subways to emphasize the need for social distancing and are encouraging credit and debit card transactions to limit the handling of cash and coin. Additionally, we are testing sneeze guard options that we can place at the counters to offer added protection for our sales associates. We will also continue to share best practices from a variety of government agencies and businesses as they evolve.
• I want to provide you with an overview of the impact COVID-19 has had on Forward overall. To date, we have closed T.R. McTaggart, the LumberJack Restaurant, our Super 8s in Houghton Lake and West Branch, and our Quality Inn in West Branch. Additionally, we’ve closed 13 Subways as the demand at those locations could no longer warrant staying open. In total, close to 300 Forward employees have been laid off as a direct result of the pandemic and many others have had their hours reduced.
• We continue to stay in touch with our team members who have been laid off and are assisting as much as possible with filing for unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, there is an incredible strain on the system that is slowing the process down for many. To put it into perspective, during an average week the state’s unemployment office receives 5,000 claims. Two weeks ago, 128,000 claims were filed. Last week, 311,000 claims were made. Michigan now ranks fourth in the US in claims behind only California, Pennsylvania, and New York as almost a half million people have lost jobs in the last two weeks. To combat delays in filing, the unemployment office has moved to a filing system that requires people to apply on specific days based on their last name. The office is also suggesting that for faster service, people should file during the off-peak hours of 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. For more information on the updated schedules and unemployment benefits in general, visit Michigan.gov/UIA.
• The largest emergency aid package in US history was signed into law last week that will inject a $2 trillion stimulus into our economy. Though exact details of who gets what and when are still being determined, it appears many of our employees will receive up to $1,200 individually, $2,400 per couple, and an additional $500 per child. Unemployment benefits have also been expanded, which will be a huge relief for the hundreds of Forward employees and millions across the country who are out of work.
• Unfortunately –as we understand today – the stimulus package does not provide much relief for the company itself. Though some elements of our business may be eligible for assistance, Forward employs too many people to qualify for the bulk of federal and state aid. As I’ve said before, we have worked with our bank to extend lines of credit to help get us through these tough times, but access to additional relief funds would have provided much-needed assistance.
• That being said, we continue to identify ways to support our Forward family in the field. Though sales have been substantially impacted across our essential businesses, I am announcing a temporary $1 per hour appreciation pay increase for our hourly convenience store and Subway associates and a $100 per pay period appreciation increase for our salaried convenience store and Subway managers. This additional appreciation pay will be given to employees who work directly with the public and will be in effect from April 1 to April 28. While we would love to commit to more and for a longer period, the economic realities we face and the uncertain timeline don’t allow for it. Please know how much we appreciate every employee at every level of the company as we navigate the delicate balance of increasing wages during the most vulnerable time Forward has seen in its 95 years.
As each day brings an increased number of cases and deaths, it is becoming more likely things won’t be back to normal anytime soon. Like many, I hoped that when the governor’s executive order expires April 14, that a sense of normalcy would return. It now seems probable the order will extend beyond that. While this is far from ideal, we will hunker down, focus on our operations, and do everything we can to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.
Thank you again for your dedication and all you do for Forward. Stay safe and stay healthy.
President, Forward Corp