The novel corona virus has increased demand for Amazon’s delivery service (AMZN) as hundreds of millions of Americans are forced into their homes. However, the global pandemic has also created fear and frustration among many of the company’s warehouse workers. They have carried out strikes across the country, accusing the company of inadequate security measures and insufficient paid vacation, as more than 50 facilities report infections.
On Monday, the confrontation in a facility on Staten Island escalated when dozens of workers left work for the second time, just a week after a first strike. Strike organizers said 26 cases of the virus had been reported to the camp, a sharp increase since the first reported case at the facility on March 24.
(On occasion, Amazon has not contested or confirmed the number of cases in the warehouse.)
Amazon has dismissed the criticism and cited plans to conduct temperature tests and provide protective masks for employees in all U.S. facilities. The company announced that temperature testing had already taken effect on March 29 in Staten Island.
Other protective measures taken by the company in recent weeks include improved cleaning measures in some camps and paid sick leave available to all employees diagnosed with coronavirus.
The additional protection does not alleviate the concerns of protesting workers who have criticized the company’s continued operation of camps and who have instead called for all facilities in the United States to be temporarily closed for thorough cleaning and paid vacation with full pay during this period.
“This is blood money,” says Jordan Flowers, 21, a warehouse worker in Staten Island who helped organize the strike, referring to the money Amazon earns while workers are in danger. “We shouldn’t have to come to work to get infected with the virus.”
Flowers, who says he is at increased risk from suffering from an autoimmune disease, did his last shift on February 28 and said he would not return until the camp was closed and cleaned. He is not paid unless he is working.
“I want to know that I am in a clean work area,” he says. “This is serious – we are basically a breeding ground.”
In a statement, Amazon praised its employees for their work under duress, but rejected the claim that it had failed to take sufficient measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
“Our employees are heroes who fight for their communities and help people find important things they need in this crisis,” said Rachael Lighty, a spokeswoman for Amazon. “Like all companies struggling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to ensure employee safety while serving communities and the most vulnerable.”
“We have taken extreme measures to ensure people’s safety, triple deep cleaning, procure available safety stocks, and change processes to ensure that people in our buildings stay safe,” added Lighty.
According to the New York Communities for Change (NYCC) advocacy group, which helped organize workers in the Staten Island camp, 50 workers took part in the strike on Monday. The turnout on Monday means a slight decrease in the number of strikers, including more than 60 workers last Monday, according to the NYCC. (Amazon says last Monday’s strike included only 15 workers.)
The organizers of the Monday strike cited updates to text messages sent by Amazon managers to employees as evidence of the allegation of 26 coronavirus cases among workers at the Staten Island facility.
<p class = "Canvas-Atom Canvas-Text Mb (1.0em) Mb (0) – sm Mt (0.8em) – sm" type = "text" content = "Last Monday employees worked in the same warehouse on Staten Island during a shift due to infection fears, and the dispute worsened when the company later fired one of the participating workers, Chris Smalls, later that day for allegedly violating the social distance guidelines: Smalls, Union Leader, New York Attorney General, and elected officials like New York Democratic MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have publicly criticized the company’s behavior towards him. “data-reactid =” 41 “> Last Monday, workers in the same warehouse on Staten Island left the house on a shift due to fear of infection, and the argument worsened when the company fired one of the participating workers, Chris Smalls, later that day , for allegedly violating social distancing guidelines Smalls, Union Leader, New York Attorney General, and elected officials like New York Democratic MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have publicly criticized the company’s behavior towards him.
Two days later, leaders of some of the country’s largest labor organizations, including AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, and the American Federation of Teachers, which have tens of millions of members, called on the company to reinstate smalls and to temporarily shut down all U.S. – Warehouses and full compensation for workers until their health concerns are resolved.
The letter questions the accuracy of Amazon’s public statements regarding measures taken to address security concerns in its facilities. These include improved cleaning operations that the company has carried out in some camps, and paid sick leave, which it has made available to all employees diagnosed with coronavirus, among other things, to address health risks.
The letter is also signed by dozens of elected officials in New York, where Attorney General Letitia James is considering legal options to punish Amazon for what appears to be retaliation against smalls, Alexis Keenan of Yahoo Finance said. (James didn’t sign the letter).
According to its website, the company has more than 110 fulfillment centers in North America. The Staten Island warehouse is one of the company’s largest urban facilities, Verge reported last year. The plant is 855,000 square meters and has 4,500 workers.
The retail, wholesale, and department store union (RWDSU), which helped organize staff at the Staten Island warehouse, released a statement in support of the strike.
“Amazon clearly has to be better for its workforce,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU. “Amazon has to listen to its employees who are at risk during this global pandemic.”
Flowers, the warehouse worker in Staten Island, said the company should treat its employees with the same respect it shows to customers.
“The customer is always right,” he says. “At the moment the employee is always right: we ask you to help us.”
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