Amazon warehouse workers plan to deliver thousands signed petitions to the residences of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and lead Amazon spokesperson Jay Carney on Thursday, demanding the reinstatement of its recently terminated unlimited paid leave policy.
In late April, Amazon announced that it would end its unlimited unpaid leave policy on May 1. The policy, which was introduced in response to COVID-19, allowed workers to call out sick without penalty. Amazon warehouse workers now have to apply for a leave of absence and provide documentation to human resources managers in order to take time off, if they have not accrued vacation time.
"We believe in taking care of people who need time away. Someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or who is presumptively positive (but unable to get a test) will receive up to two weeks of paid time off—this is in addition to their other paid and unpaid time off options," Av Zammit, an Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard. "We're asking anyone who was in close contact with the diagnosed individual while at our site to stay home, with pay, for 14 days in self-quarantine to protect themselves and those around them. If any team members are unable or unwilling to work a scheduled shift, they can use paid or unpaid time off options, and we are supportive if someone chooses to stay home."
Workers say that those who benefited from the unlimited unpaid leave policy, because it allowed them to call out on a day-by-day basis when they were sick or needed childcare, may not be able to afford to take 'personal leaves of absence,' which require a minimum amount of unpaid time off.
“Amazon is making people choose between their families and work,” Brenda Jo Aron, an Amazon stower at DSW7 in Fort Worth, Texas, who signed Thursday’s petition, told Motherboard. “When we had unlimited unpaid time off it was a job security thing. Now if someone went to work one day and gets sick, they might have no choice but not to go in sick. If you don’t have paid time off and you skip work, you will get terminated.”
As of Wednesday, more than 5,300 workers from 350 locations, including Amazon warehouses, delivery pick-up stations, and Whole Foods stores, had signed onto petitions. The action was organized by a number of labor groups including the Athena coalition.
The series of actions on Thursday follows recent news of the deaths of two Amazon warehouse workers from COVID-19, one in New York City’s Staten Island warehouse and the other in northeastern Illinois. According to a crowdsourced COVID-19 tracker, 270 Amazon warehouse workers have tested positive for coronavirus. At least 29 warehouse workers at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse have fallen sick.
“I have a weak autoimmune system and have been on unpaid leave since February 28,” Jordan Flowers, a robotics technician at JFK8, who signed the petition, told Motherboard. “I’m not planning to go back to work, and I will most likely be penalized for that. This is a scary time for any Amazon worker with health problems.”
Members of two grassroots labor organizations that organize Amazon warehouse workers, New York Communities for Change and the Warehouse Worker Resource Center in southern California, will deliver the petitions to Bezos’s $80 million penthouse in New York City and $165 million estate in Los Angeles. Members of LaCollectiVA will deliver petitions to Jay Carney’s house in Washington DC.
Carney, a former Obama White House press secretary, has come under criticism for defending Amazon’s decision to fire Chris Smalls, a JFK8 warehouse worker who led a walkout at the facility in April over the company’s health and safety practices. On May 4, a well known Amazon VP Tim Bray “quit in dismay,” calling the company “chickenshit” for firing and smearing warehouse workers like Smalls who have organized strikes.
In recent weeks, Amazon warehouse workers have staged walkouts at warehouses in New York City, Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan. And in late April, more than 400 Amazon warehouse workers staged a mass “sickout” and activists painted a giant street mural outside Bezos’ DC penthouse that read “Protect Amazon Workers,” after learning that the company had ended its unlimited unpaid time off policy.
“Workers at JFK 8 are pretty freaked out after learning yesterday that a worker died at their warehouse, but workers are returning to Amazon with health conditions because they have to,” Zachary Lerner, labor organizing director at New York Communities for Change, which organizes Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, told Motherboard. “Our plan is to go to his Manhattan house with the petitions printed and attempt to deliver it to the doorman at his building. Hopefully they’ll give it to Jeff Bezos so he knows how workers feel about this issue and that they’re calling on him to reinstate this policy as a minimum.”
Update: This article was updated with a comment from Amazon and to clarify Amazon's leave of absence policy.