Amazon workers protest company’s response to pandemic 

Amazon warehouse workers in Italy, France and New York are protesting the company’s response to the global coronavirus pandemic. Workers say that the multinational, which has seen a surge in orders since social-distancing measures began, is not doing enough to protect their safety.

More than 1,500 Amazon workers have signed a petition calling on the company to take additional steps to ensure the safety of both workers and customers. They are calling on the company to close and clean warehouses exposed to the virus and ensure protections for those that need to take time off.

Critics say that the company is endangering its customers and members of the public as well as those working in its warehouses. Research suggests that the virus can remain viable - able to infect a person - for 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and steel.

Measures ‘totally insufficient’

Workers and legislators have criticised the company for requiring workers and delivery drivers to continue working at its distribution centres during the spread of the virus.

Amazon recently stopped requiring employees in its warehouses to attend ‘stand up’ meetings in packed groups before shifts, after an initial outcry. Over recent weeks it has also begun spraying the warehouses with disinfectant and staggering break times for workers, as well as sending those with coughs home. However, employees say that the measures are not enough.

Hand sanitiser and wipes are said to be in short supply in some warehouses and workers are not given time to wash their hands, they have reported, if ‘rate targets’ are met.

The e-commerce giant has repeatedly been criticised for enforcing punitive targets on workers. If employees are unable to meet them, managers can write it on their record, making  promotion within the company difficult, and even leading to firings, workers say. The company is said to have increased these targets for warehouse workers in Italy over recent weeks, in order to meet growth in demand during the outbreak.

Concerns have also been raised about potential overcrowding in work places as Amazon hires more employees to meet increased demand from those self-isolating. The company is already said to have hired new workers in Italy, according to warehouse employees. In America, Amazon annouced the recruitment of 100,000 new workers last Monday, and has specifically targetted those who have been furloughed during the spread of COVID-19.

Luismi Ruiz, who works at an Amazon facility in Spain where two workers have tested positive for the virus and is a union representative, told the Washington Post, “It’s an atmosphere of fear – huge fear right now...  measures are totally insufficient.”

Protesting Amazon workers

Several distribution centres owned by the e-commerce giant have seen protests.

Amazon workers in New York claimed that they forced the company to shut its warehouse there. Workers state that the company attempted to start the 6.45am shift as usual just hours after the warehouse’s closure during the night due to a worker testing positive for the virus.

Amazon has disputed this saying that it voluntarily shut the warehouse. Videos show workers from the morning shift telling managers that the warehouse could not have been subject to full cleaning and should not be opened for work.

Distribution centre employees in Italy and France have also been on strike. Italian workers stated that the multinational was failing to follow government rules for the containment of the virus at its distribution centre. They say that at entrances, locker rooms, briefings and security checkpoints, the conditions mean that maintaing separation is nearly impossible, as well as that the hand gel dispensers are frequently empty. Two employees at the Milan warehouse tested positive for the virus in early March.

“Amazon cannot act like this is business as usual,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union. “If distribution centres are not safe for workers right now, they should be closed immediately.”

Protections called for

The petition from Amazon workers calls on the company to immediately shut any facility on a temporary basis, in which a worker tests positive for coronavirus and to pay all employees at the facility while cleaning and testing takes place.

Workers also say that they need paid sick leave regardless of diagnosis, if warehouses are to remain open. While coronavirus testing remains inaccessible, such measures are needed to ensure that those with symptoms do not continue working, they state.

Amazon, which had a turnover of $87.4 billion in 2019, has told flexible workers that they can apply for a grant to receive up to 2 weeks pay if diagnosed with COVID-19 from the Amazon Relief Fund. The Fund is part supported by the company and part through public donations. The CEO of Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, also wrote to staff suggesting that employees “donate” their paid time off to colleagues “who have a medical emergency or death in their immediate family”.

The petition also calls on the e-commerce giant to provide workers time and a half hazard pay, to suspend ‘rate-based write-ups’, and offer childcare pay and subsidies during the global pandemic.

Demands have been echoed by senators in the US. In a letter to the company signed by four senators including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, they demanded answers on how the company will protect workers going forward.

The letter states, “Americans who are taking every precaution, staying home and practicing social distancing, might risk getting infected with COVID-19 because of Amazon’s decision to prioritise efficiency and profits over the safety and well-being of its workforce.”

Ethical Consumer continues to call for a boycott of Amazon over its tax avoidance.

Take action:

Athena Coalition is asking consumers, as well as workers, to sign a petition demanding 100% paid sick leave for Amazon workers that have to stay at home during the outbreaks.

See our guide to ethical online retailers for alternatives to Amazon.

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