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Amazon Extends Warehouse Closures in France After Spat With Unions

As it waits for an appeal on a court ruling, Amazon’s warehouses in France are remaining shut through at least Wednesday.

On April 14, a French court told the Seattle-based company it would have to limit deliveries to essential goods, including food, self-care and medical products. Failure to comply with the order would require Amazon to pay a hefty penalty of 1 million euros ($1.09 million) per day of delay. By restricting Amazon’s deliveries, the court noted that officials would be able to better examine whether the online powerhouse is taking adequate safety precautions to protect its associates.

But Amazon says the court’s definition of essentials goods is insufficiently clear, and the company has shut its six French warehouses — which have about 10,000 workers — while it waits for an appeal to be heard this week.

“We remain perplexed by the court ruling of last Tuesday, and look forward to our appeal being heard on Tuesday, April 21. We continue to keep our French Fulfilment Centres closed temporarily,” an Amazon spokesperson told FN. The company added that it has told employees to stay home through Wednesday, April 22.

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Unions had called for the total shutdown of Amazon’s activities in France, expressing worries over purported challenges in maintaining proper social distancing amid heightened product demand.

Similar concerns over a purported lack of protections for employees have also been raised on Amazon’s home turf of the United States: In late March, 15 workers at the company’s Staten Island, N.Y., warehouse participated in a demonstration that sought to call out Amazon’s workplace conditions after an employee at the facility tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Christian Smalls, who led the employee walkout, was fired shortly afterward, but Amazon attributed his termination to his receipt of “multiple warnings for 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 for employees 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.”

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