Employees of Amazon, whose workforce includes more than 650,000 people around the world, say the company’s response to the rapidly spreading outbreak of the novel coronavirus is insufficient.
This week, Amazon sent a notice to logistics employees offering “up to two weeks of pay” for those who test positive for COVID-19 or are quarantined. The company also announced the opportunity to apply for grants from a fund of at least $25 million to “support employees and contractors around the world who face financial hardships from qualifying events.”
But warehouse employees said those measures stood in stark contrast to the treatment of salaried employees, who have been offered the opportunity to work from home indefinitely if they felt ill.
“They’re offering no preventative solutions.”
“They’re offering no preventative solutions, only payment for workers after we’ve been infected, which doesn’t help to slow the spread of the pandemic or alleviate the suffering [and] risk of death from contracting it,” said Chicago Amazon warehouse worker Ted Miin, who works the night shift sorting packages for delivery to homes and businesses throughout the city.
Miin is a member of a group of employees that has been pushing Amazon to improve working conditions at its Chicago facility. The group, called DCH1 Amazonians United, is asking Amazon for paid sick leave for all employees, including hourly workers, as well as paid parental leave so they can practice social distancing as recommended by the CDC.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Beth Galetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of human resources, wrote that the $25 million fund was designed to provide relief to delivery contractors, nonemployees, and Flex drivers, as well as seasonal employees who might be financially impacted by “qualifying events,” including a “natural disaster, federally declared emergency, or unforeseen personal hardship.”
The grants, which individuals must apply for, range from $400 to $5,000 per person. Additionally, “independent delivery service partners and their drivers, Amazon Flex participants, and seasonal employees” who are diagnosed with or quarantined due to COVID-19 can apply “up to two-weeks of pay” from the fund.
“The health and safety of our employees and contractors around the world continues to be our top priority as we face the challenges associated with COVID-19,” Galetti wrote in the post.
On Monday, the online retailer said warehouse workers who felt ill could take unlimited unpaid time off without fear of penalty for missing shifts. Last week, the company asked corporate employees in Seattle to work from home after two unnamed staff members tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, wrote an email to staff on Wednesday suggesting that employees “donate” their paid time off to colleagues impacted by the virus, Vice reported.
Amazon said it’s conducting “enhanced cleaning” of its facilities.
Since Monday, Amazon warehouse employees have also been gathering signatures on a petition started by workers in New York demanding that the e-commerce giant provide all employees with paid sick leave. The petition also calls for other protections, such as longer breaks to accommodate handwashing, increased communication about the safety measures it is taking across the company, and a promise of full pay for all employees and contractors should facilities be forced to shut down.
“We have seen an increase in the volume of such goods, [which is] placing a greater strain on workers. Yet despite larger workloads, Amazon continues to enforce and raise productivity quotas,” the petition reads. “While Amazon has made some limited coronavirus accommodations, it needs a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety of all of its workers and the larger public, including giving workers paid leave and not simply extending our unpaid leave, as was announced recently.”
The number of signatures on the petition, which was authored by Amazonians United NYC, has not yet been released.
Employees have also expressed concerns about whether the virus could spread between employees in different facilities or to customers via packages handled by an infected individual. The CDC said the virus can survive for hours — and in some cases, days — on surfaces, which it recommends people disinfect. A virus expert told the Washington Post that while it’s unlikely the virus would spread that way, “there’s never zero risk.”
Amazon said it’s conducting “enhanced cleaning” of its facilities but didn’t respond to queries about what that process entailed.