More than 300 Amazon warehouse workers at 50 facilities across the country have pledged to call out of work in the coming days to protest Amazon’s handling of the coronavirus—the largest mass action against the company since the start of the pandemic.
In recent days, Amazon has confirmed at least 75 coronavirus cases in more than half of its 110 warehouse facilities, and experts have warned that the number of positive cases is “likely to exponentially increase” in the coming days and months due to Amazon’s failure to implement an effective national safety plan for its warehouses.
“I will be calling out sick tomorrow to protest because Amazon is not allowing us to stay home and practice real social distancing,” Monica Moody, a 22-year-old packer at an Amazon Fulfillment center in Concord, North Carolina and a member of United For Respect, told Motherboard. “I have to go to work and risk being exposed to this virus. I need the money. If Amazon were offering it, I would use paid sick leave.”
In a series of blog posts, Amazon has outlined an evolving series of benefits and policies for its workers during the pandemic, including a $2 an hour increase in wages and two weeks of paid sick leave for those who test positive for coronavirus and are placed in quarantine. While they are not punishing workers for calling out sick, the paid leave policy does not extend beyond those workers with confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases. Organizers and experts say that public pressure and worker organizing has played an important role in pressuring Amazon to expand its protections and benefits for workers but that safety equipment, cleaning protocols, and paid leave options still remain short of what is needed to curb the spread of the virus in warehouses and the communities where Amazon workers live.
"Nothing is more important than the safety of our teams," a spokesperson for Amazon told Motherboard in a statement. "Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis. Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable. We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances. The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for their communities every day. We encourage anyone interested in the facts to compare our overall pay and benefits, as well as our speed in managing this crisis, to other retailers and major employers across the country.
Many of the hundreds of workers who have pledged to participate in the mass action led by the grassroots labor organizations United for Respect, New York Communities for Change, and Make The Road New York, will call out on Tuesday. Those who haven’t been scheduled to work tomorrow will call out of their next scheduled shift. A map of the walkouts and facilities with confirmed coronavirus cases has been posted online.
The nationwide protests follow strikes at Amazon fulfillment centers in Queens, Staten Island, and Detroit, and makes it look increasingly as if there is a growing appetite for a general strike led by frontline workers. At least two Amazon warehouse workers involved in the strike actions have been fired. Workers at Whole Foods, Instacart, and numerous other companies across the country have staged walkouts in recent weeks.
On March 18, Amazon confirmed its first case of coronavirus in one of its warehouse facilities, when workers shut down the Queens delivery center where their infected colleague had worked. In less than a month the number of reported cases has neared 100, and on April 14, Amazon confirmed the first death of a warehouse worker at a facility in southern California.
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Rachel Belz, a stocker at a fulfillment center in West Deptford, New Jersey which she says has 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus, told Motherboard that she has not worked since March 13 and will call out sick on Tuesday in protest, because she lives with her immunocompromised mother.
“It’s definitely a financial hardship not to go to work,” said Belz, who is also a member of United For Respect. “My mother has trouble breathing on a normal day. If she were to go sick, it could kill her. I’m not going to put her health at risk to send people non-essential items. I’m not going to work this week, but I have a five year old kid and student loans and rent and car insurance to pay. I might not have a choice next week.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.