Amazon warehouse workers shut down deliveries at an Amazon Distribution Center in the San Francisco Bay Area for several hours on Saturday, demanding the company implement more safety measures to protect workers against COVID-19 and increased pay to reflect the cost of living in one of the country’s most expensive metro areas.
Early Saturday, a caravan of cars, organized by Bay Area Amazonians, an Amazon warehouse worker and delivery-driver led group, drove into the warehouse parking lot, blocking Amazon delivery vans from leaving the facility for roughly three hours and disrupting the flow of business, according to the protest’s organizers. Alongside Amazon warehouse workers, workers from the nearby Fremont Tesla factory and several local Bay Area unions rallied outside the facility, waving signs and banners and chanting: “Black Lives Matter.”
The protest at the San Leandro, California warehouse follows a series of walkouts, strikes, and actions coordinated by Amazon employees around the country in recent months. Workers have demanded increased safety measures and transparency from the company that has received widespread criticism for its treatment of its employees during the pandemic. In May and June, as new COVID-19 cases soared in Amazon warehouses, the company rolled back its $2 an hour hazard pay and ended its unlimited unpaid time off benefits enacted in March to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.
“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of all of our employees, and we are doing everything we can to keep them as safe as possible,” Brittany Parmley, an Amazon spokesperson, told Motherboard. “We’ve invested over $800 million in the first half of this year implementing 150 significant process changes on COVID-19 safety measures by purchasing items like masks, hand sanitizer, thermal cameras, thermometers, sanitizing wipes, gloves, additional hand-washing stations, and adding disinfectant spraying in buildings, procuring COVID testing supplies, and additional janitorial teams.”
Saturday’s protest marked the first time Amazon warehouse workers shut down an Amazon facility in the greater Silicon Valley area, according to some organizers. Amazon warehouse workers in New York City, Chicago, and Minnesota have also staged walkouts related to COVID-19 concerns in recent months.
“I think the most important thing was yeah we showed workers that it’s not a one way street,” said John Hopkins, an Amazon employee at the San Leandro warehouse and lead organizer of the protest. “When I went into work that night, everyone was talking about it and no one ever says anything anti-Amazon inside the warehouse. I think momentum is building.”
In April, Amazon fired Chris Smalls, an employee who organized a walkout in protest of the company’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Staten Island warehouse. Later, a memo obtained by VICE News revealed that Amazon’s general counsel had referred to Smalls, who is Black, as “not smart or articulate.” In May, Amazon fired another Black employee involved in labor organizing.
Leaders of the Saturday’s protest had demands similar to those made by Amazon workers at other facilities across the country in recent months: two weeks of paid leave for employees exposed to COVID-19, a redesign of the warehouse with social distancing markers, and a transparent process for informing workers about positive COVID-19 cases at their facilities. Amazon currently offers two weeks of paid sick leave only to employees with positive, or presumed positive COVID-19 cases—and often takes weeks to inform workers about positive cases at their worksites.
Warehouse workers at the San Leandro facility say the warehouse has had at least four positive COVID-19 cases reported over the past month.
To mitigate the rising cost of living in the Bay Area and other challenges faced by Amazon workers in the area, the protestors also demanded $30 an hour and full health benefits for all workers, as well as an in-house route designer for delivery drivers.
“Our base demands are necessary,” Adrienne Williams, a former Amazon delivery driver and a lead organizer of Bay Area Amazonians told Motherboard. “We need $30 an hour, full medical benefits for everyone and a route designer in each warehouse. Our routes are designed by employees in Seattle. They’re so dangerous and inefficient. You could fix this immediately if the drivers just had someone to talk to.”