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Senators Call on Walmart to Improve Safety for Workers During Coronavirus

Following a wave of criticism about Amazon’s labor policies, rival retailer Walmart is now facing flack over its workplace conditions.

Four United States senators — former Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Sherrod Brown and Richard Blumenthal — have penned a letter urging Walmart to improve safety for its frontline workers following reports that several employees have died due to the coronavirus. (COVID-19 has led to more than 869,100 infections in the United States, with at least 49,900 confirmed deaths.)

Addressing president and CEO Doug McMillon, the lawmakers wrote, “We recognize the fast-moving nature of this pandemic, and we appreciate Walmart’s attempts to implement certain necessary workplace protections. But every day that goes by without these protections fully and properly implemented puts the lives of more and more Americans at risk.”

Over the past couple weeks, the big-box giant announced plans to provide its employees with personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks. It also said it would conduct regular temperature checks, install plexiglass shields at checkout stations and limit the number of customers allowed inside its stores at one time to encourage social distancing.

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However, the senators claimed they heard from Walmart employees about a purported lack of safeguards put into place: According to the letter, complaints include a shortage of equipment, poor quality materials and masks and gloves that “only come in one size that is often too small” to fit many of the workers. What’s more, employees alleged that the stores in which they worked were not capping the number of shoppers.

“We are also concerned by Walmart’s paid sick leave policy,” the lawmakers added. “No worker should be forced to choose between their paycheck on one hand and their health and health of their colleagues and your customers on the other — a choice that many Walmart employees find themselves having to make.”

The group gave Walmart until April 27 to answer a series of questions, listed in the letter, about how it planned to address such concerns. FN has reached out to Walmart for comment.

The senators, along with Sen. Robert Menendez, sent a similar letter to Amazon demanding stronger protections for frontline workers. Two weeks ago, the five U.S. leaders raised questions to CEO Jeff Bezos regarding Amazon’s working conditions, noting that workers at its Staten Island, N.Y., warehouse claimed they were in short supply of PPE and those at other facilities have alleged that supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant were being rationed or “at times are wholly unavailable.”

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