Amazon workers to walk out over lack of protective gear amid coronavirus

This article is reprinted from The Guardian:

More than 100 Amazon workers planned to walk out of a New York facility on Monday, demanding increased protective gear and hazard pay as they work through the coronavirus pandemic.

“Since the building won’t close by itself, we’re going to have to force their hand,” Chris Smalls, lead organizer of the Staten Island strike, told CNBC. He added that workers “will not return until the building gets sanitized”.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to Smalls, the employees are set to walk out at 12.30pm ET.

Delivery workers for Instacart, a national delivery service, also planned to strike on Monday, demanding disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and better pay to offset risks faced in bringing groceries to Americans confined to their homes.

While much of the US navigates public gathering restrictions and mandatory stay-at-home orders, and as confirmed cases and deaths from the respiratory illness rise, Small alleged that Amazon employees have been exposed to multiple people who have been found to have Covid-19.

Employees at the New York facility accuse Amazon of poor communication about worker health. Small himself is in quarantine after coming in contact with an infected co-worker.

The management assistant alleges only “a select few of the general managers” and a handful of colleagues in close proximity were informed about the diagnosis. Another anonymous worker told CNBC gloves were being rationed.

Amazon confirmed an associate, who reported for work on 11 March, has since been diagnosed with Covid-19. The associate received medical care and is in quarantine, the company said.

“We are following all guidelines from local health officials and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site,” a spokeswoman told CNBC.

The company shot back at Small’s accusations, claiming he was “alleging many misleading things” while at home on quarantine and receiving full pay.

Amazon insisted it had “taken extreme measures” for safety, including deep cleaning and procuring safety supplies. The spokeswoman added the company permits unlimited unpaid leave for employees who feel uncomfortable working during the outbreak.

Amazon has had to balance a spike in demand for online deliveries with growing risks to its workers. Research indicates the coronavirus can survive on items like cardboard for 24 hours, and on plastic for up to three days.

The company instituted a 3ft distancing policy and distributed hand sanitizer throughout its facilities. Still, workers had already tested positive for the coronavirus at 11 warehouses. One warehouse in Kentucky was forced to close temporarily.

With Amazon employing nearly 800,000 people, some workers claim the measures don’t go far enough. Warehouses are still sometimes packed with thousands of employees confined to small spaces.

New York state has the most confirmed Covid-19 cases in the US. More than 60,000 cases have been confirmed across the state, resulting in more more than 1,000deaths.

On Sunday, Instacart announced concessions to its delivery workers including new health and safety supplies and automatic tipping.

In a Medium post, Instacart workers and the Gig Workers Collective said the company’s response was “insulting for a number of reasons”.

“We are heartened by the outpouring of support we’ve received from Instacart customers, politicians, activists and everyday folks worried that they could be exposed to the virus due to Instacart’s craven profit-seeking,” the workers wrote.

“It goes to show that corporate greed is an issue that impacts us all, whether one is a shopper directly being affected, or not.”

Kenya Evelyn is breaking news reporter for Guardian U.S.

Featured image credit: Johannes Eisele/AFP