Amazon, Instacart workers strike amid coronavirus pandemic

"The richest man in the world can't even provide basic protection for his workers during this pandemic crisis because it hurts his bottom line."

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As much of the country is under “shelter in place” orders to help flatten the curve, Amazon, Instacart and Whole Foods’ employees’ safety is in jeopardy. And many of them walked off the job yesterday to pressure the companies to step-up protections and pay.

While online shopping and grocery delivery is at an all-time high amid the coronavirus pandemic, the protests come as some employees are testing positive for the virus and neither Instacart nor Amazon are doing enough to keep employees safe.

“The richest man in the world can’t even provide basic protection for his workers during this pandemic crisis because it hurts his bottom line,” Ron T. Kim, New York Assembly member, tweeted about Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos. “I stand in solidarity with Amazon workers.”

Employees at Amazon’s Staten Island facility walked off the job yesterday in protest after “multiple people at the warehouse have been diagnosed with COVID-19,” NPR reported. The strike, which consisted of between 50 and 200 employees at the JFK8 warehouse, was organized to demand “that Amazon shut the warehouse down and ensure it is sanitized before requiring employees to work again,” Common Dreams reported.

“These accusations are simply unfounded,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an email to NationofChange. “Of the more 5,000 employees at our Staten Island site, 15 people—less than half a percent of associates—participated in the demonstration. 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, changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances and in Staten Island we are now temperature checking everyone entering the facility. The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day.”

“We know we’re not alone at JFK8 and that conditions are similar in Amazon facilities everywhere,” Phillip Ruiz, a warehouse employee, told New York Communities for Change. “Amazon’s actions do not match their statements that they are prioritizing our health or the health of the public.”

The JFK8 strike took place just a few days after employees walked off the job at an Amazon facility in Queens, New York because an employee tested positive for COVID-19 and the facility was not shut down for proper cleaning.

Amazon responded that it has “taken extreme measures to keep people safe.” The decision on whether to close a facility for cleaning “depends on where the sick workers were in the building, for how long, how long ago and other assessments,” NPR reported.

Currently, Amazon temporarily raised employees’ wages $2 an hour through April, along with providing unlimited unpaid leave for any employee that doesn’t feel comfortable working during this pandemic.

But employees said this isn’t enough. They are asking for more paid sick leave and guaranteed pay when a warehouse closes for proper cleaning and sanitation.

Instacart’s independent contractors are asking the company to provide them with “proper protective items like disinfectants, hazard pay of an extra $5 per order and a higher default tip in the settings of the app,” NPR reported. While the company responded that it would make changes to the tipping setting and distribute sanitation supplies, it made no mention of paid sick leave for the independent contractors.

While Amazon declined to disclose the total number of positive COVID-19-tested employees, the company announced it’s “tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available … and in Staten Island we are now temperature checking everyone entering the facility.”

“I touch over 2,000 different items every day I work there. I have to grab products out of the shelf and put them in the bins. … And I’m not wearing any protection,” Terrell Worm, an employee at JFK8 warehouse, said. “Amazon says we’re all a family there. If they really saw us as family, they’d care about keeping us safe and keeping us home.”

Update, April 3, 2020: This story has been updated to include a quote from an Amazon spokesperson about the number of participants who went on strike at JFK8 warehouse.

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