Amazon fulfillment center employees in Staten Island, New York, left their warehouse employees today to protest the company's response to COVID-19 infections. Amazon has confirmed a case of COVID-19 at the New York plant, but employees say there were at least 10 and the company did not notify employees or did not properly clean the warehouse. Now they are asking Amazon to close the facility for two weeks for a thorough cleaning.
"The goal is to shut the building down, and they will shut it down because no packages, nothing without employees, is coming out of the building," said Derrick Palmer, who has worked at JFK8 for four and a half years. "This is a pandemic. People literally lose their lives because of this virus. And (Amazon) doesn't take it seriously. They don't give us the respect we ask for. We will not ask for it. We will demand it because at the end of the day we are the heart and soul of this building, not the managers. You are back in the office. We are at the forefront. "
Amazon only closed facilities when forced to do so due to government regulations or worker protest
According to local news reports, employees in 19 U.S. Amazon camps have tested positive for COVID-19. So far, Amazon has only closed facilities when forced to do so due to government regulations or worker protest. Last week, the company closed an returns processing warehouse in Shepherdsville, Kentucky indefinitely after three employees tested positive and the governor ordered it to close. On March 18, a sorting center in Queens, New York, was temporarily closed for cleaning after employees left the house after finding out about a positive COVID-19 case. The staff learned about the case from staff and said they should come to work.
Picture: Make the NY Street
Failure to notify workers when someone in a facility tests positive appears to be a systemic one. Last week The Verge spoke to workers in several camps in the United States who had heard of COVID 19 cases from employees. At JFK8, Palmer said the first case was confirmed on March 12, but the workers were not informed until a few days later when the managers stepped on the ground and personally informed the employees. But the facility is staffed with more than 4,000 employees and has an area of 855,000 square meters. Many heard about the incident much later by hearsay.
Amazon has a strong infrastructure to keep its warehouse workers up to date. For example, if the company announces mandatory overtime, Palmer sends companies and emails to every employee. "With this incident, they didn't send any text – nothing at all," says Palmer.
Amazon says it has stepped up warehouse cleaning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but JFK8 and elsewhere say the measures are lagging far behind requirements. According to Palmer, about a dozen cleaners work at JFK8, too few to properly disinfect such a huge building. (Employees in other warehouses in the United States have raised similar concerns about the lack of cleaners.) While Amazon has suspended daily stand-up meetings and staggered schedules to minimize the accumulation of employees, certain roles in the warehouse, such as: . B. the packaging department, still required employees are in the immediate vicinity, and employees often pass items among themselves.
JFK8 is the first major promotion in an Amazon fulfillment center
"When setting up the department, everyone is on top of each other," says Palmer. "It is literally impossible to maintain social distance within these departments and they have not been practiced, they have not tried to adjust it at all because there is no way to do it."
Picture: Make the NY Street
In Italy and Spain, where COVID-19 outbreaks have spread longer, Amazon refused to close facilities after workers became infected, leading to protests. Earlier this month, a group of senators wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, expressing concern about the safety of Amazon employees, including asking whether the company was temporarily closing facilities and granting paid leave to employees would if someone did positive tests COVID19. A workers' petition calling for a similar approach has collected more than 1,500 signatures. JFK8 employees also request paid vacation while the cleaning facility is closed.
In a statement, Amazon called the workers' claims "unfounded" and said its employees were "heroes". The company takes worker safety very seriously and has made various changes, including intensifying cleaning and checking working temperatures. Regarding the closure of buildings, the company said it is consulting health authorities and medical experts, and if a diagnosed worker has not been in the building for some time or if the area in which he worked has already been cleaned during the normal course of business, the The facility may not need to be closed.
The pandemic has focused on the role of workers at Amazon, Instacart and other technology companies that deliver goods. They no longer work in the background of digital interfaces, but are increasingly recognized as frontline employees who do an important job for millions of Americans who are told to stay at home. Both companies are trying to hire tens of thousands more people to meet growing demand. Amazon gives letters to its employees that they are "essential" employees, delivers "critical supplies directly to the front door of the people who need them" and should be allowed to continue their work at standstill.
However, the pandemic also exposes these workers to new risks, and workers say companies have been slow to adjust policies and safeguards. Instacart and Amazon are now offering workers who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have been quarantined for two weeks of paid leave. However, this does not help workers who have COVID-19 symptoms but cannot be tested. Amazon warehouses have been optimized for speed and efficiency, and employees say that due to the high speed, they have little time to use detergents, which are often scarce.
Picture: Make the NY Street
Instacart employees are on strike today, demanding increased sick leave, risk payments and protective equipment. Whole Foods, which is also owned by Amazon and faces unprecedented demand for supplies, is on strike tomorrow. JFK8 is the first major promotion in an Amazon fulfillment center, and employees in Amazon warehouses across the country have raised similar concerns.
"Alexa, please shut down the building and renovate it."
Closing a fulfillment center for an extended period of time would jeopardize Amazon's ability to continue to deliver products. However, if this is rejected and employee safety is not guaranteed, there is a potentially greater threat to the company. Workers are already staying at home instead of venturing into crowded warehouses and foregoing the payment that Amazon has recently increased instead of taking the risk of infection. The delivery times for some items are now at least one month. At JFK8, employees disappointed with the company's coronavirus response are trying to close the facility themselves.
At around 1:00 p.m. on March 30, workers left the New York warehouse, with many wearing masks and bandanas over their faces. "Alexa, please put the building down and renovate it," read one of the signs. In a live stream of the protest, workers were frustrated that they were not being informed about camp infections and said many would stay home without pay.
"We're not done here yet. Today was a cry for help," said Chris Smalls, an employee of the facility and one of the organizers of the strike, who was wearing a black headscarf when he turned to demonstrators. "Today was a victory for us, but it's a battle and the war isn't over yet. We may go to the town hall tomorrow morning. We need to get the government's attention. Just like in Kentucky, the government has to step in and close the building. "
Update 3PM ET: The story was updated to identify one of the protesters' spokesmen, Chris Smalls.