Hundreds of Amazon Workers to Call in Sick to Protest Purported Lack of COVID-19 Safety Measures

Hundreds of Amazon warehouse workers across the United States plan to call in sick this week as part of a nationwide protest what they claim is a lack of safety measures at the company amid the coronavirus pandemic.

According to worker rights group United for Respect, more than 300 employees in at least 50 Amazon facilities have pledged to stay home instead of showing up for work. The Amazon workers allege that the company has failed to supply enough face masks for workers and did not conduct temperature checks at warehouses as promised. They also claimed that the e-commerce behemoth has refused to provide adequate paid sick leave.

“Amazon’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has unnecessarily put the lives of Amazon employees at increased risk and exposure,” the organization wrote on its website, which urged workers to join the call-out demonstration. “Nationwide, we have been and will continue to call out sick until Amazon makes the necessary changes to put our health and safety first.”

According to United for Respect, employees in more than 130 Amazon warehouses across the country have contracted COVID-19, which has sickened 787,900 people in the U.S. and killed at least 42,300.

In a statement to FN, Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty said, “These accusations are simply unfounded … Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable.”

She added, “The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for their communities every day.”

Amazon is classified as an essential retailer in the U.S., allowing it to continue operating its warehouses even in the states and localities that have implemented stay-at-home orders. The outbreak has driven a surge in demand on its website for certain household products, leading the company to hire 100,000 new workers in under a month. (It also announced plans last week to add another 75,000 full- and part-time employees.)

But at the same time, the online powerhouse has had to contend with workers across its ranks falling ill with the virus, and employees as well as elected officials have raised concerns regarding conditions in the facilities.

In late March, 15 workers at Amazon’s Staten Island, N.Y., warehouse participated in a demonstration  to call attention to the facility’s workplace conditions after an employee tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Christian Smalls, who led the employee walkout, was fired shortly afterward, but Amazon attributed the termination to his “violating social distancing guidelines.” (Smalls, Amazon said, had come into contact with a worker who tested positive for COVID-19 and was told to stay home with pay for 14 days.)

Further, five U.S. senators — including former Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand — penned a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos earlier this month 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.”

An Amazon spokesperson told FN last week, “We have enough supply of masks for everyone in our operations network and grocery stores to last a few weeks and continue to procure more. There is a mask shortage in the world right now, so naturally we are being deliberate in our daily distributions.”

This story was updated with a statement from Amazon.

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