The coronavirus crisis may be uncharted waters in many ways, but there’s a time-honoured tradition for aggrieved workers whose health and safety are treated as an afterthought: go on strike.
Your goals as a worker (earning a living, not getting sick or dying on the job) and the goals of your company (profit) are fundamentally mismatched. During less frightening times, this chasm can often be overlooked! But for those of you working for Amazon, it’s already painfully clear to many of your colleagues—in New York, in Chicago, and soon Detroit—that your employer’s handling of the coronavirus within its sprawling warehousing network is unacceptable.
How else do you explain Amazon’s alleged lack of transparency around exposures? Associates and managers alike are gathering on Reddit to track known and rumoured cases within their facilities—because, workers say, corporate isn’t readily sharing this information. Striking workers in Chicago even allege that management allowed multiple shifts to cycle through their building before they were informed of a confirmed covid-19 case at the facility and that they observed: “cleaners using non-approved cleaning products, the same rags over and over, and only wiping down basic surfaces at the warehouse.” A delivery facility associate told Gizmodo that social distancing was not being observed at his warehouse; as a part-time workforce, the overwhelming majority of delivery station laborers do not receive health insurance.
To the best of our knowledge, no warehousing associates have received hazard pay, despite the fact that we’re facing an unprecedented epidemic that has already overwhelmed hospital systems in several major cities.
Amazon’s logistics empire was deemed an essential business, even as whole swaths of the economy have sputtered to a halt. Striking during a pandemic—your boss might tell you—is selfish when other essential workers can’t do the same. Don’t buy it. Unfortunate as it is to think about, those in healthcare or law enforcement made an informed decision to pursue careers that put them in harm’s way (and it hasn’t stopped them from striking or threatening to strike during calmer times, for what it’s worth).
Sure, there are plenty of reports of warehouse work, especially at this company, being backbreaking. But you probably started at Amazon with the reasonable expectation that it would not lead to contracting an untreatable illness. If your bosses aren’t holding up their end of that bargain, then they’ve already cast the first stone, and there’s little at your disposal but withholding your labour.
Many businesses are also in dire financial straits. Workers across the country are being laid off, furloughed, or having their pay reduced. Fortunately, you work for a trillion-dollar company, at the pleasure of the richest man on Earth. Practically anything you could ask for—especially minimum protections like hazard pay, facility closures to disinfect, and healthcare—are not only possible, they’re probably barely more than a rounding error on Jeff Bezos’s balance sheet.
Workers protested outside a delivery station in Queens when they heard of exposures in the building, and coincidentally, that delivery station was closed down for deep cleaning. Chicago strikers won paid time off for part-time workers. The strike in Staten Island reportedly netted a pay raise from $US17.50 ($28) to $US23 ($37) per hour. This all comes in addition to a $US2 ($3) pay raise across all warehouses, and relaxed attendance policies for March.
These are minimum concessions. Think about what would make you feel safe and valued, and fight for it. Now.
Despite transitioning to virtual job interviews for high-level candidates over a month ago, Amazon is still reportedly packing rooms—with no regard for social distancing measures—trying to hire more warehousing associates. Amazon is not unique in treating some workers like kings and others like cannon fodder. Fortunately, right now, those of you on the front lines have extraordinary leverage.
Make no mistake, this applies as much outside Amazon’s warehouses as in. Managers, delivery drivers, Whole Foods workers, the few actual humans at Go stores, Amazon Air pilots, and tech workers—your voices are stronger together, and right now I’d imagine most of you want the same things: financial and medical security in uncertain times.
Amazon’s reputation is forever tied to unsafe workplaces, to union–busting, to extracting as much productivity from workers as physically possible while paying next to nothing in taxes on its profits. Increased workplace protections and pay would be the very tip of what we could call—if not a start to American class consciousness—a much needed a market correction. The wealthiest person to ever live is actively putting you, your family, and your community in harm’s way. If now isn’t the time to speak up, when is?