Coronavirus concerns at Amazon roil workers into labor actions

Coronavirus concerns at Amazon roil workers into labor actions



Amazon warehouse workers outside Detroit say they fear for their health and safety amid the coronavirus outbreak. They say they are working in unsafe conditions. (April 2)

AP Domestic

Scores of Amazon workers are planning to not show up for their jobs this week in an effort to bring attention to their safety concerns and put pressure on the company to improve workplace conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, say organizations supporting the workers.

It is being billed as the biggest mass action yet in an ongoing dispute between the e-commerce behemoth and its workers. Hundreds of warehouse workers pledged to call out from their jobs starting Tuesday, according to Athena, a coalition of local and national organizations representing workers.

Another mass sickout among tech workers is planned for Friday and has been organized by the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. “We are asking you to call in sick on Friday, April 24th to show that you want Amazon to go in a different direction,” the group said in a Medium post to Amazon workers.

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The Athena coalition says there are more than 130 warehouses where Amazon workers have contracted COVID-19, including some warehouses with more than 30 confirmed cases. “Amazon’s corporate management has consistently responded with delay tactics and incoherent plans that do not rise to the urgency of the pandemic,” Athena said in a statement about this week’s action.

Amazon recently confirmed the death of one worker in California, though it’s unclear where he was infected with the coronavirus. Additionally, the company said it has taken a number of measures to protect workers, including issuing masks and temperature checks.

The online retailing giant also said it has increased pay for hourly employees by $2 per hour in the U.S. and has filled 100,000 new jobs since March. Last week, the company said it planned to hire another 75,000 workers.

“A next step in protecting our employees might be regular testing of all Amazonians, including those showing no symptoms,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a letter to shareholders last week.

But Athena says the face masks have been provided only to a fraction of the workforce and are of poor quality. It also said temperature checks easily could be avoided and that workers with fevers reported being sent home without paid time off.

The sickout planned for Friday also is protesting the treatment of warehouse workers, as well as the firings of two tech workers who had criticized the company’s climate policies and workplace safety conditions. One of those workers, Maren Costa, recently addressed Amazon tech workers in an internet forum.

“We want to tell Amazon that we are sick of all this — sick of the firings, sick of the silencing, sick of pollution, sick of racism, and sick of the climate crisis,” Costa told them, according to a news release from the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. “So we’re asking tech workers to join us for a sick out on Friday, April 24 and show Amazon that you do not agree with their actions.”

The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the planned worker protests.

The first publicized action from Amazon workers over safety during the coronavirus pandemic happened March 30 when some workers at an warehouse on Staten Island, New York, walked out during lunch.

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: [email protected]

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