Business

Amazon workers protest over virus safety

Amazon workers protest over virus safety

By Agence France-Presse

Amazon warehouse employees and Instacart delivery workers joined protests Monday to press safety demands, highlighting the risks for workers on the front lines of supplying Americans largely sheltering at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amazon workers at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse stage a walkout to demand that the facility be shut down and cleaned after one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus (AFP / Angela Weiss / MANILA BULLETIN)

An estimated 50 to 60 employees joined a walkout at an Amazon worker warehouse in the New York borough of Staten Island, demanding that the facility be shut down and cleaned after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus.

“There are positive cases working in these buildings infecting thousands,” warehouse worker Christian Smalls wrote on Twitter.

Amazon, responding to an AFP query, said Smalls made “misleading” statements about conditions and that he was supposed to be in quarantine.

“Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable,” Amazon said in a statement.

“We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe.”

After the protest, Smalls was officially fired by Amazon.

When contacted by AFP for comment, Amazon confirmed the decision, which it said was due to Smalls’s failure to comply with the company’s request that he self-isolate after he came in contact with another employee who tested positive for COVID-19.

By taking part in Monday’s demonstration, he put “the teams at risk. This is unacceptable,” Amazon said in a statement, noting that only 15 of the more than 5,000 employees at the site had taken part in the protest.

New York state attorney general Letitia James called Smalls’s dismissal “disgraceful” and pointed out that the law protects employee’s right to protest.

“At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling and are deeply concerned about their safety, this action was also immoral and inhumane,” she said in a statement.

AFP / Angela Weiss
An estimated 50-60 Amazon workers walked out of a New York warehouse to demand that the facility be shut down and cleaned after one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus
James said she was exploring options for legal recourse and had asked the National Labor Relations Board to investigate the incident.

Meanwhile a group calling itself the Gig Workers Collective said it was maintaining its call for Instacart’s independent contractors to strike despite new safety measures announced late Sunday by the company.

“Workers aren’t filling orders until our full demands are met,” a spokesperson told AFP. “This isn’t just about us, we want to also protect our customers.”

It was not immediately clear how many of Instacart “shoppers” who are independent “gig” workers, were participating in the stoppage.

Instacart, which recently announced plans to hire some 300,000 people to help meet demand for grocery delivery, said in a statement it was “fully operational” and that the walkout caused “no impact.”

“We’re continuing to see the highest customer demand in Instacart history and have more active shoppers on our platform today than ever before picking and delivering groceries for millions of consumers,” said the San Francisco company, which operates in some 5,500 cities in the US and Canada.