WeWork paying people to come to office during crisis is moral question

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General view of WeWork Weihai Road flagship is seen on April 12, 2018 in Shanghai, China. World’s leading co-working space company WeWork will acquire China-based rival naked Hub for 400 million U.S. dollars. (Photo by Jackal Pan/Visual China Group via Getty Images)

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Struggling office space company WeWork sent a memo on Tuesday to some of its employees with a new offer: $100 per day to come in to work.

WeWork extended its offer to its U.S. and Canada “community employees,” the people who act as the “face of WeWork,” according to a LinkedIn job post. They perform tasks such as handling mail for WeWork tenants and covering the front desk. 

In New York, where WeWork is headquartered, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered all nonessential businesses to keep 100% of their workforce at home in a desperate effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. WeWork’s claim is that keeping certain offices running qualifies as essential because of the critical work some tenants are doing.

WeWork lists the following “member quotes” in the memo, which was obtained by CNBC:

“We are a financial services company so we need to be able to access our office throughout this coronavirus issue. Please do not close or shut us out. We have 130 clients whose financial lives depend on us.”

“We provide support to Hospitals, Clinics, and Food Banks in the terms of personnel. We provide essential personnel like nurses and medical assistants and other licensed healthcare professionals to keep their business in operation.”

“Our company is working with Health Care companies, hospitals and delivery companies involved in combating COVID-19 and as such our business is essential and needs to remain supported and able to access WeWork locations throughout the country during this time.”

While hospitals, clinics and food banks are clearly essential services, WeWork’s role in providing office space to support them is murkier ground. Offering to pay employees $100 a day to put themselves in harm’s way and potentially risk the lives of others gets into moral hazard territory, even if jobs up the supply chain are valuable.

It’s just the latest questionable decision from management at WeWork, which was in trouble well before COVID-19 became a global health and economic crisis. The company failed to go public last year and was forced to accept an emergency bailout from SoftBank, causing a shift in leadership and the ouster of co-founder Adam Neumann. 

But WeWork isn’t alone in weighing extreme efforts to flatten the curve around virus hospitalizations versus economic growth. 

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wants the U.S. economy to “open” back up by Easter Sunday, April 12, despite expert warnings about the deadly threat of the coronavirus. Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, suggested that older people would be willing to die to protect the economy.

“If that is the exchange, I’m all in,” Patrick told Fox News.

A WeWork spokesperson didn’t immediately comment on the moral implications of the company’s memo.

WATCH: SoftBank backs away from part of planned WeWork bailout

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