Workers at Amazon, Whole Foods Market, Instacart, and Shipt are planning a May Day walkout/sickout to protest their employers’ continuing failure to provide adequate protections in the workplace, according to a statement from the strike’s organizers. This is, the statement notes, a matter of life or death.
The statement cites “lack of PPE, flawed policies, and dense safety guidelines” as the cause of the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces. While there have been some changes, those changes are not enough, and the statement notes that the new protections were not in place throughout the entire month of March, “when Christian Smalls was wrongfully terminated for raising health and safety concerns… workers are being terminated or retaliated against for speaking up.” Christian worked at a fulfillment center in Staten Island, and was let go immediately after leading a group of colleagues out of the building during lunch hour as a protest against Amazon’s response to the crisis, according to the New York Times. Their demands at the time: For the building to be temporarily closed and stringently sanitized, and for workers to be paid during the hiatus, as several had gotten sick. Smalls is a lead organizer of the current strike.
The statement also notes that workers have been keeping track of positive COVID-19 cases in the facilities—but that Amazon and Whole Foods are not being transparent about the cases: “Since around March 30, 2020, some Amazon employees have been receiving text messages or voicemails from their managers alerting them that someone from their facility has tested positive for COVID-19. When daily numbers in a facility climb into double digits, Amazon stops disclosing exact numbers, instead referring to ‘additional cases’.” The strikers have “so far tabulated over 500 positive cases in over 135 buildings nationwide.”
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The May 1 strike will be the latest in a series of protests. Even besides the one in March, Central Valley TV (CVTV) reported yesterday that employees at Amazon’s Tracy Fulfillment Center had walked off the job after receiving notifications that two more workers had tested positive for COVID-19, and one had passed away. CVTV also reported that some workers at Amazon stand by and have to wait for work assignments, making physical distancing difficult.
And according to Michael Sainato, a reporter for The Guardian, over 50 Amazon employees in Shakopee, Minnesota walked off the job on April 26 to protest Amazon firing another worker, revoking unlimited unpaid time off, and more positive COVID-19 cases at the warehouse.
It’s also not the first Instacart strike. On March 30, employees asked for PPE—but Wired reports that while the company agreed to provide face masks, thermometers, and hand sanitizer, the supplies were less than satisfactory. Hannah LaCaze, an Instacart employee, whose kit arrived after a few weeks, told Wired that the kit was useless: The bottle of hand sanitizer had burst; the thermometer was a small strip of temperature-reactive paper, which had ripped in half; and when she wrung out the face mask, it dripped black dye. She wasn’t the only one whose kit was below par; another employee, Amy V., told Wired that the mask was thin enough to be see-through, and had two slits cut into the sides as ear holes instead of elastic.
Whole Foods Market employees are demanding:
- Guaranteed paid leave for all workers who isolate or self-quarantine instead of coming to work.
- Reinstatement of health care coverage for part-time and seasonal workers.
- Immediate shutdown of any location where a worker tests positive for COVID-19. In such an event, all workers should continue to receive full pay until the store can safely reopen.
- Increased FSA funds to cover coronavirus testing and treatment for all team members, including part-time and seasonal.
- Guaranteed hazard pay in the form of double pay during our scheduled hours.
- Commitment to ensuring that all locations have adequate sanitation equipment and procedures in place.
CBS reported Amazon’s response: “While we respect people’s right to express themselves, we object to the irresponsible actions of labor groups in spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon during this unprecedented health and economic crisis. The statements made are not supported by facts or representative of the majority of the 500,000 Amazon operations employees in the U.S. who are showing up to work to support their communities. What’s true is that masks, temperature checks, hand sanitizer, increased time off, increased pay, and more, are standard across our Amazon and Whole Food Market networks already.”