As Its Workers Prepare to Strike, Amazon Says It’s Already Done 150 Things to Protect Them During the Pandemic

Workers at multiple corporations — Amazon and Target included — are preparing to strike on Friday over a purported lack of adequate health and safety protections during the COVID-19 outbreak. But Amazon and Target say they are taking numerous precautions to keep staff members safe.

To protect workers from contracting the virus, Amazon said it has staggered shifts, placed markings on its floors and added signage to remind employees to social distance. It has also increased the frequency of cleaning at all sites, including of high-touch surfaces such as elevator buttons, door and stairway handles and touch screens. Additionally, the e-tail behemoth said it has been conducting temperature checks and providing face masks and hand sanitizer to employees in warehouses in the United States and Europe as well as in its Whole Foods stores.

“Working globally with our teams and third parties, we have gone to extreme measures to understand and address this pandemic with more than 150 process changes to-date,” Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty told FN. “We spend every day focused on what else Amazon can do to keep our people and communities safe and healthy.”

In addition to taking health and safety precautions, Amazon has invested $700 million to boost pay for employees during the pandemic. All Amazon employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or otherwise placed into quarantine receive up to two weeks of pay, which the company said is meant to ensure workers are not worried about lost income while battling illness.

Meanwhile, Target said it has implemented “dozens of safety, social distancing and rigorous cleaning measures” in its stores since early March. The retailer has installed Plexiglass partitions at its checkout lanes and is cleaning checkout lanes after each transaction. Additionally, it is monitoring and limiting guest traffic and has introduced overhead audio messages reminding shoppers of safety procedures. Further, in addition to giving masks and gloves to employees, the big-box chain is requiring that team members wear masks or face coverings in stores. 

“While we take them seriously, the concerns raised are from a very small minority. The vast majority of our more than 340,000 frontline team members have expressed pride in the role they are playing in helping provide for families across the country during this time of need,” a Target representative told FN, adding that: “When concerns have been brought to our attention, we’ve taken additional action, including increasing the frequency of overhead announcements and adding more signage.”

Lighty shared a similar sentiment regarding concerns from some Amazon workers.

“While we respect people’s right to express themselves, we object to the irresponsible actions of labor groups in spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon during this unprecedented health and economic crisis. The statements made are not supported by facts or representative of the majority of the 500,000 Amazon operations employees in the U.S. who are showing up to work to support their communities,” Lighty told FN.

Purveyors of essential goods have kept their doors open amid widespread closures, and Target and Amazon have seen increased demand for certain products during the crisis as panicked shoppers stock up on essentials. Nonetheless, retailers have had to work through members of their ranks contracting COVID-19.

In late March, then-Amazon employee Christian Smalls 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, but Amazon attributed his termination to his receipt of “multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines.” Nonetheless, the e-tailer is under investigation by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, who believes Amazon may have violated the state’s whistleblower protections as well as federal workplace health and safety laws.

On Friday, a number of employees from Amazon and Target, as well as Walmart, FedEx and Instacart, reportedly plan to call in sick or to walk out of work during their lunch break as part of a “May Day” protest. Workers who plan to participate in the protest are calling for improved health and safety standards as well as hazard pay.

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