Earlier this week, workers at an Amazon store in Staten Island, New York, were told that an employee of the plant was testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Then they went back to work.
“After they told us, it was just built as it has been,” she said Terrell Worm, an Amazon worker in Staten Island and a member of Make the Road New York, an activist group. “It̵
Amazon workers are at the forefront of the coronavirus pandemic and help get food and necessities delivered to millions of American households. The company’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, The richest men on earth, has said he will do it all he can to keep his employees safe.
But workers do not feel that way. “Watching Amazon executives say they protect workers is annoying,” a New England driver told HuffPost, asking for anonymity to protect their jobs.
At least 10 Amazon warehouse workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of Thursday, according to public reports. Employees say that many more are probably ill. The company does not publish cases. news on cases has been filtered out via warehouse workers. The company just closed one Kentucky stock because of the outbreak, only after staff protests because three workers tested positive for coronavirus.
Warehouse workers and delivery managers say they lack protective equipment such as goggles, masks and gloves. And they don’t have enough detergents to wipe down their workstations and work closely with each other – despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that recommend social distance. Meanwhile, the amount of work is astonishing.
“It is very dangerous and scary. I’m afraid of my own safety and my own community, says Monica Moody, who works at an Amazon store in Concord, North Carolina, near Charlotte and spoke at another call with workers and activists on Tuesday.
Amazon makes us choose between coming to work or risk losing wages.
Monica Moody, Amazon warehouse worker
Workers still gather in groups of 10 or more, she said. And there are rumors that colleagues have tested positive for COVID-19.
“We’re all crazy,” said Moody, a member of United for Respect, who advocates for retailers. “Amazon makes us choose between getting to work or risk losing wages.”
The pressure is on to keep working – longer hours and at faster speeds. And while Amazon has unveiled a host of measures designed to address the pandemic, there are two policies that really tell the story: The company offers unlimited unpaid leave to someone who does not want to risk coming to work. In the meantime, workers who earn $ 2 more per hour earn double pay when they work overtime.
It is a complete choice. “You either get a lot of money or you’re sitting at home worrying about the bills,” said Jana Jumpp, a member of United for Respect who works in a Jeffersonville, Indiana, Amazon fulfillment center and spoke at the call Wednesday. “The only choice we have is to take leave without pay or be exposed to this virus.”
Some of her colleagues are not as worried, she said. “I’ve had people say, ‘I don’t care if I’m sick, I want to get that money,'” she added.
Jumpp is 58 years old and has loved working on Amazon until recently, she said. Now she is taking unpaid leave.
“I’m afraid to go back,” she said. “There is nowhere near protection in our facility; people do not get hand sanitizers, wipes or masks. “
“They shoot us and shoot us”
The situation also seems difficult for the company’s army of contract employees, including its fleet of drivers who are either independent contractors or who work for small local businesses that handle vehicle fleets and cars that deliver packages – under enormous pressure.
“We are not social distances,” said the New England driver, who works for a contractor and spoke to HuffPost last week.
The drivers enter a group in the morning before heading out on their routes for the day. They have not been given cleaning cloths or any kind of protective equipment to keep them safe on the road. And as business grows right now, the drivers are driven to deliver packages as quickly as possible.
“We’re getting really tough to do our routes. As many as we can. I mean they push us and push us, “said the driver, adding that there is no time to stop for breaks or even to eat.
And although this driver could buy some remedies, there is no right time to try to keep the packages clean. “I try to wipe the van and wipe my hands but we can’t sit there and wipe off packages.”
What happens when a worker gets sick
If a worker tests positive in a warehouse, employees in the facility are told about the situation, an Amazon spokesman told HuffPost. But employees often start to hear rumors.
Stephanie Haynes, a United for Respect member working at a warehouse in Joliet, Illinois, said that after hearing a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19, she and some colleagues confronted a staff manager at their warehouse. They were told to go back to work and that Amazon had checked cameras to see who was working near this person.
“We didn’t know because Amazon told us,” she said, adding that she worked with this woman. “Someone else who worked with her also came and said something.”
Amazon says its policy is to send home to anyone who works closely with an infected person. Haynes was not told to go home.
“I have allergy asthma. I have family at home. I have children at home. My hubby has diabetes, ”she said at the call Wednesday. “Many people want to go home but they have bills they want to pay. … Amazon needs to do a lot more to protect us. “
In a statement, Amazon acknowledged that a worker in Joliet was testing positive. “We support the one who is recovering. We follow the guidelines of local officials and take extreme steps to ensure the safety of employees on our site, ”the statement said.
The worker who tested positive was last at the facility a week ago, the company said. Everyone who was in close contact was asked to stay home with pay for 14 days.
Amazon said it is not publishing cases.
“Amazon’s paid sick leave is a joke”
According to Amazon’s sick leave policy COVID-19, workers receive 14 days paid sick time if they have been diagnosed with the disease or placed under quarantine. But it leaves the flow of workers who are uncompromised and considered vulnerable under CDC guidelines. It also leaves the many, many sick workers who can’t actually be tested for coronavirus.
Companies with similar policies have received a lot of criticism over their limitations.
Employees who cannot use the emergency policy may use the paid sick leave they earned while working at the company. But many say they just haven’t saved enough hours to take any meaningful time off.
“Amazon’s paid sick leave is a joke, says Jumpp.
The company must implement true universal sick leave, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Said in a letter to Bezos last weekend.
“I am encouraged that you have realized the importance of paid sick leave during the current crisis,” she writes. “However, I am concerned that gaps in this policy will allow many workers to follow the best medical advice when they are sick, put themselves, their colleagues and their communities at greater risk.”
Warren is pushing for universal paid sick leave for all workers who expand beyond what Amazon offers. Congress has failed to provide any form of emergency paid sick leave to workers on Amazon. A provision in emergency coronavirus legislation passed last week only guarantees paid sick leave to workers at companies with fewer than 500 employees.
“This Isn’t Business As Usual”
“Much of the essential work we do cannot be done from home,” Bezos said in a mail to the workers earlier this week and acknowledge the difficulties of the situation. He assured employees that their safety is his main concern, while acknowledging the enormous role of the crisis and the role Amazon plays.
“This is not business as usual and it is a time of great stress and uncertainty. It is also a moment when the work we do is the most critical, he said.
The company now prioritizes important goods – food, cleaning products – over other items.
Bezos tried to reassure the workers that he was thinking about their safety.
“We have implemented a series of preventive health measures for employees and contractors at our locations around the world – ranging from increasing the frequency and intensity of cleaning to adapting our practices to fulfilled centers to ensure the recommended social distance guidelines. We meet every day and work to identify additional ways to improve these measures, he said.
This is not business as usual and it is a time of great stress and uncertainty. It is also a moment when the work we do is the most critical.
Jeff Bezos, in a letter to Amazon employees
Worm deficiency is a known issue, Bezos writes. But he says medical workers come first. “When our turn to masks comes, our first priority will be to get them into the hands of our employees and partners who are working to bring important products to people,” the letter notes.
He points out that the company plans to hire 100,000 more workers to handle the crisis.
A spokesman emphasized that the company’s policy is being developed together with the public health crisis.
The epidemic is clearly a breakout moment for Amazon. The workers say that the level of work right now is similar to the Christmas rush. And they also understand that they are performing a clearly important service right now, which allows large parts of the country to protect themselves on the ground and slow the spread of the virus.
Still, employees say Amazon needs to do more. Not only do they need more protective equipment, but they say Amazon should proactively control working temperatures before letting them start working, and that stocks should be closed for cleaning after an outbreak. They also want proper paid sick leave.
At this point, many workers have just stopped showing up in stock.
Worm, who works in Staten Island, says employees come from all five boroughs for their stock shifts, travel through a city that is experiencing a heartbreaking number of cases and deaths and possibly spreading additional illnesses. For the best of the city and the country, he thinks the company should just close down the facility where he works: “This is New York City. This is the epicenter. We are at the center of this virus and they do not take it seriously. “
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