Amazon workers strike as labor unrest grows during coronavirus crisis
Amazon said it fired an employee who helped organise the action for alleged violations of his employment
NEW YORK: Warehouse, delivery and retail gig workers in the United States went on strike on Monday to call attention to safety and wage concerns for people laboring through the coronavirus crisis.
Among the strikers were some of the roughly 200,000 workers at US online grocery delivery company Instacart, according to strike organizer Gig Workers Collective, founded earlier this year by Instacart worker Vanessa Bain.
Fifteen workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, also walked off the job on Monday following reports of COVID-19 among the facility’s staff.
Amazon said later it fired an employee who helped organise the action for alleged violations of his employment, including leaving a paid quarantine to participate in the demonstration. New York’s attorney general said her office was “considering all legal options” in response to the firing, citing the right to organise in the state.
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Workers have also protested in other countries. Dozens of Amazon workers at a facility near Florence, Italy, went on strike on Monday.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said last week that pressure on Amazon employees to work despite inadequate protections was “unacceptable.”
From delivery drivers to grocery store clerks, shelf stockers and fast-food employees, workers have kept food and essential goods flowing to people who have been told by their governments to stay home to stop the spread of coronavirus.
More than 738,500 people have been infected across the world and about 35,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, said it has taken “extreme measures” to clean buildings and obtain safety gear and that “the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day.” Less than half a percent of its more than 5,000-person workforce at the Staten Island site protested, it said.
In statements on Monday, Amazon disputed comments from one of the striking Staten Island employees, Christian Smalls, who had accused the company of mishandling warehouse operations after a confirmed case of coronavirus.
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Amazon said Smalls was on a paid quarantine after having close contact with a diagnosed worker, and had “received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines,” leading to his dismissal.
Smalls responded in a statement distributed by Athena, a labor and activist coalition.
“I’m going to keep speaking up. My colleagues in New York and all around the country are going to keep speaking up. We won’t stop until Amazon provides real protections for our health and safety,” he said.
Letitia James, the New York Attorney General, issued a statement calling the firing “disgraceful” and also asked the National Labor Relations Board to investigate. Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment on the attorney general’s statement.
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San Francisco-based Instacart - which lets customers place online orders from grocers, retailers like Costco Wholesale Corp and CVS Health Corp’s CVS Pharmacy - said in a statement that the strike of its contractors had “absolutely no impact to Instacart’s operations.”
On Monday, Instacart said it had 40% more shoppers on the platform than on the same day last week and sold more groceries in the last 72 hours than ever before.
“The health and safety of our entire community - shoppers, customers, and employees - is our first priority,” it said in a statement.
It was not clear how many Instacart workers were participating in the strike, Bain told Reuters. Bain has created a Facebook group with 15,000 members. She said hundreds more have reached out to her in light of Monday’s campaign.
In posts on social media, people who said they were Instacart workers demanded hazard pay to account for the dangers of working while most people stay home to comply with state, local and federal government guidance.
They also asked for the company to provide hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and soap to clean their cell phones, cars, and shopping carts.
“We don’t have to have 100 percent participation to ... force Instacart to maneuver on these issues,” Bain said in a phone interview.
Instacart said on March 23 that it wanted to hire another 300,000 gig workers because of a surge in demand.
Staff in one supermarket of French retailer Carrefour will receive protective masks after some walked out over health risks, a union said on Monday.
Employees of McDonald’s Corp, as well as people who said they worked at Walmart, supermarket chain Harris Teeter, Waffle House, Family Dollar and Food Lion, boycotted work at North Carolina locations on Friday.