The Sheetz convenience store chain is giving hourly pay raises of $3 to roughly 17,000 workers in its stores, the company announced Wednesday in response to the coronavirus crisis. It's one of the most aggressive moves yet by companies that are boosting pay to retain, attract and motivate employees.

The widescale raise is retroactive to March 13 and will be in effect through April 23.

"Sheetz is also actively hiring store employees," the company said as it announced the pay hike.

Gas stations are deemed essential businesses during shutdowns like the one that took effect last week in Pennsylvania, where Sheetz is based. The company has more than 580 stores in six states, including Ohio, Maryland and North Carolina. A growing number of those states are now operating under special limits that their governments hope will slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Thousands of workers have been laid off or idled due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. But Sheetz's $3 raise reflects a growing trend, in which quarantines and other restrictions have sent some companies — especially grocers, pharmacies and delivery services — on hiring sprees.

In the past week, the company that operates Albertsons, Safeway and other grocery stores said it will raise workers' wages by $2 through late March. Target is also paying an extra $2, until at least May 2. Kroger said it will give frontline workers a one-time "appreciation bonus" of up to $300.

Walmart, Amazon, Papa John's and other companies are mobilizing for a quick growth spurt — and they're also coming under scrutiny for how they handle safety issues, as NPR's Alina Selyukh reports.

"Some of the companies that are adding new jobs — including Amazon and Instacart — have faced criticism from their current employees, who want protective gear, hazard pay and broader access to paid sick leave," Selyukh says.

Sheetz is popular with travelers for offering freshly made sandwiches and milkshakes — but like many companies, it has suspended all self-serve options and stepped up cleaning procedures, to reduce the chance of spreading a coronavirus infection.

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