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Amazon workers fight for better COVID-19 conditions

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon workers organize locally, nationally, and globally in an attempt to get Jeff Bezos’ attention to gain safe working conditions at warehouses.

Amazon workers

While Amazon claims it has taken serious measures to increase facility cleanings and encourage social distancing measures at its fulfillment centers, workers nationwide feel the tech giant’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been inadequate.

Workers have complained that Amazon has maintained standard work procedures such as fulfilling an hourly pack rate to meet customer demand, which can be used to track and reward (or demote) worker performance. Employees claim the metrics don’t allow them time to practice safe sanitary practices like visiting the bathroom to wash their hands after sneezing or coughing. They also raised concerns about standing meetings, where workers are gathered shoulder-to-shoulder to receive updates.

Many workers have also lodged concerns about lack of transparency regarding confirmed cases at their warehouses. Multiple walkouts have been staged after confirmed cases were reported and the warehouses continued operations. Workers believe their managers are not disclosing the real number of cases.

The following is a non-exhaustive timeline of employee unrest at Amazon, and some of the company’s reactions.

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  • March 13: Two Amazon HQ office workers are diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • March 16: Amazon announces effort to hire 100,000 additional employees and qualifying employees will receive increased pay of $2/hour in the US, Canada, the UK, and EU countries.
  • March 17: Amazonians United NYC write a post on Medium petitioning for coronavirus protections from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. As of this writing, 5,210 workers from around the world have signed this petition.
  • March 18: Workers at the DBK1 warehouse in Queens, New York, receive confirmation that a worker has been diagnosed with COVID-19. This is the first confirmed case at an Amazon warehouse.
  • March 29: Two workers are diagnosed with COVID-19 at the EWR4 warehouse in Robbinsville, New Jersey.
  • March 30: At least a dozen workers walk off the job at EWR4 in Robbinsville. Workers at Staten Island JFK8 warehouse stage an organized walkout led by Chris Smalls. He is fired later that day.
  • March 31: Whole Foods workers organize sick-out demanding “guaranteed paid leave for employees who isolate or self-quarantine instead of coming to work; reinstatement of health care coverage for part-time and seasonal workers; hazard pay for coming to work; and the implementation of policies to facilitate social distancing between workers and customers.”
  • April 1: A third confirmed case of coronavirus is announced to workers at the DTW1 warehouse in Romulus, Michigan. A handful of workers walkout.
  • April 3: Chicago workers stage walkout after a colleague tests positive for COVID-19 a week earlier, demanding the facility be closed and sanitized.
  • April 7: Amazon pilots disinfectant fogging, mandates social distancing, temperature checks, and masks throughout shifts.
  • April 10: Amazon fires UX designers and outspoken members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa. A warehouse operations manager from Hawthorne, California dies of COVID-19, the first reported death at Amazon.
  • April 13: Amazon says 100,000 jobs have been filled and another 75,000 will be added. Amazon encourages workers from especially impacted industries like hospitality, restaurants, and travel to apply.
  • April 14: Amazon confirms firing Bashir Mohamed, a Minnesota worker who had also been calling for safer work conditions.

It is unclear exactly how many employees participated in each of the walkouts. It is unlikely that a protest by even 300 workers of the nearly 300,000 Amazon employees would have a major impact on production, or Amazon’s practices, for that matter.

But their efforts are gaining traction. New York Attorney General Letitia James, Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have all made public statements denouncing Amazon’s treatment of its workers. Attorney General James is considering legal action for Chris Smalls firing.

Amazon has made significant efforts to use its resources as a positive force in the pandemic. The Amazon coronavirus blog tracks its charitable efforts, including donating laptops to Seattle students for remote learning and opening a Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund in Seattle, among many other charitable moves. Though commendable, how a corporation treats its workers reveals a fundamental truth about its priorities.

According to Forbes, Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of $145.1 billion. Amazon recorded $280.5 billion in revenues and a record $11.5 billion in net profit in 2019.

One New Jersey warehouse worker has been on unpaid leave since March 13. Rachel Belz told Yahoo! Finance that she elected to stay home when at least 12 workers at her warehouse tested positive for the coronavirus, fearing exposing her son and parents to the deadly virus. “Money is a renewable resource – they’re not.

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Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather is the Venture Growth & Partnerships Lead at Republic where she works with partners in private investing to democratize access to capital for entrepreneurs. Heather studied neurobiology at Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. She likes to write for AG, drink Austin beer, and ride around town on her road bicycle. His name is Pippin. Say hello if you see them.

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  1. Pingback: Employers, follow Kroger's example of paying for COVID-19 testing

  2. Pingback: Amazon VP resigns via spicy letter calling the company chickensh*t

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