Hobby Lobby Defies Closure Orders, Rebrands Itself An Essential Vendor Of Medical Supplies

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On March 19, Hobby Lobby’s CEO David Green sent a letter to his “Hobby Lobby Family” thanking “God who will Guide us through this storm” and promising that “the Company’s leaders are doing all they can to balance the need to keep the Company strong and the needs of employees.” Green, whose net worth is north of $6 billion, said that his wife Barbara, “the prayer warrior in our family,” had consulted Jesus, who assured her that all employees should continue to report to work, health crisis be danged.

Less than ten days later, Business Insider reports, Hobby Lobby fired thousands of hourly employees via email, canceling their health insurance during a pandemic.

“We hope this layoff will be temporary, but we cannot predict how COVID-19 will affect Company operations,” employees were informed. “We encourage you to file for state unemployment benefits. We appreciate your service to the Company.”

Yours in Christ, etc.

“The managers have been instructed not to warn employees until it happens, and to not tell other stores at risk of closing down,” one Hobby Lobby manager told BI. “[This makes] it harder for employees to receive aid because it will come out of nowhere and they will go from ‘report back to work in a few weeks’ to ‘you’re fired.’”

But fear not, crafters, because “the Company” has figured out a way to get employees back to work despite those pesky stay-at-home orders meant to stop the spread of disease. What if Hobby Lobbys are an “essential business” because they sell fabric which could be used to make face masks? Or vital office supplies to keep American business humming with so many people working from home? Or … heck, managers just need to look at their states’ closure orders, and find some provision they can hang their hats on.

BI got the March 28 memo to store managers from Hobby Lobby’s VP of store operations Randy Betts entitled “Re: Talking with Local Authority”:

There are emergency orders in effect throughout the country. These could be issued by the state Governor, or the Country, or the city, and the federal government. In stores that are open, and there is an emergency order issued where that store is located, the DM needs to guide store management in how to respond and communicate if they are visited by a local authority that asks why we are open.

You and the DM must identify the specific reason within the emergency order that provides that store permission to be open.

The reasons could be: because we sell educational materials, because we sell products for home based businesses, or because we sell materials to make PPE (personal protective equipment.) Or other reasons that can be identified in an order. You must inform the manager why we are allowed to be open.

However, if visited by an authority the most important thing the manager must convey is a respectful tone. If they are told they need to close, it’s yes sir, yes ma’am, I will call my boss right now.

Yes, sir, just slap a sign in the window advertising “PPE Mask supplies, Educational Supplies, Office supplies, and various components for at Home small businesses,” as one North Carolina Hobby Lobby did, and that mandated closure is worth less than Christmas lights at Easter!

BI phoned stores around the country and found that “all 19 Hobby Lobby locations in Ohio were open as of Monday afternoon, as were 17 out of 20 stores in Wisconsin that were still listed as “temporarily closed” on Google.” At a store in Wisconsin which had been shut down by the police Monday, employees told BI that employees were “working on projects.”

Adding insult to injury, BI reports that the purveyor of essential pandemic crafting supplies isn’t even able to restock their shelves because the Hobby Lobby warehouse in Oklahoma is closed. And with so many hourly employees cut, “the Company” isn’t able to adequately clean stores to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We also don’t have the employees to do the extensive cleaning that they say we are doing on the website because payroll keeps telling management to cut hours,” one Ohio employee told BI. “I’m just very anxious about this whole thing and don’t understand why no one is helping us employees out with this situation.”

Well, not “no one.” Rest assured that “prayer warrior” Barbara Green is on the case.

In leaked letter, Hobby Lobby prepares to lay off employees and slash salaries to cut costs in states with mandated store closures due to the coronavirus [BI]
Leaked memo from Hobby Lobby reveals execs told managers to insist the company is ‘essential’ if law enforcement asks why stores are still open in states with coronavirus-related lockdowns [BI]
Hobby Lobby quietly reopened stores in at least 2 states, defying coronavirus-related shutdowns and prompting police intervention [BI]

Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.

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