In response to perceived inadequate protections for workers, protesters drew a graffiti mural outside of Jeff Bezos’ Washington, D.C. home yesterday.
The bright red and yellow mural included the text “protect Amazon workers,” with images of masked employees at the top. According to Washington Post reporter Marissa J. Lang, activists participating in the protest were clad in masks and gloves, and police officers were looking on to ensure that they followed social distancing guidelines.
As an essential retailer, Amazon has kept its facilities open during the coronavirus pandemic — but numerous employees have claimed that the company’s safety precautions are inadequate in light of the outbreak. The e-tailer is under investigation by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, who suggested Amazon may have violated federal workplace health and safety laws. James is also investigating whether the retailer violated the state’s whistleblower protections when it fired Christian Smalls. In late March, the then-Amazon employee organized a protest over a purported lack of safety conditions at the e-commerce giant’s facility in Staten Island, N.Y. after a worker at the warehouse tested positive for COVID-19. Smalls was fired shortly after leading the walkout. Amazon attributed Smalls’ termination to his receipt of “multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines.”
James is not the only government official to raise concerns. This month, five U.S. senators — including former Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand — wrote a letter to Bezos inquiring about Smalls’ firing. They also expressed concerns about short supplies of personal protective equipment following reports that the retailer had masks and gloves only in “limited quantities.”
What’s more, a portion of Amazon’s staff is reportedly planning to participate in a “May Day” strike tomorrow alongside workers from Target, Walmart, FedEx and Instacart. Employees of the companies are participating in the protest with hopes of achieving improved health and safety standards as well as hazard pay.
Despite this backlash, Amazon spokesperson Kristen Kish told FN today that the company has “aggressively worked” to ensure that employees stay safe.
“We urge others to compare the safety, pay and benefits measures we have taken for employees against others. Whether it’s temperature checks, getting masks to all employees and partners, to gloves, procuring necessary cleaning supplies, to moving fast to shift social distancing in our sites, we have aggressively worked to ensure the safety of our teams,” Kish said.
To protect workers from contracting the virus, Amazon said it has been conducting temperature checks and providing face masks to staff members in warehouses in the United States and Europe, as well as in Whole Foods stores. Additionally, the e-commerce giant said it is staggering shifts, and that it has placed markings on its floors and added signage to remind employees to social distance. Further, the retailer said it has increased the frequency of cleaning at all sites, including of high-touch surfaces such as elevator buttons, door and stairway handles and touch screens.
For the first half of the year, Amazon says it expects to spend more than $800 million on coronavirus-related safety measures, including purchasing masks, hand sanitizer, thermal cameras and thermometers. In addition, the company is spending over $85 million redeploying team members to perform safety-related tasks and audits at sites around the world.