Mon. Sep 26th, 2022
An Amazon Prime brand van and driver.
enlarge An Amazon Prime brand van and driver.

As the new coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world, an otherwise marginalized class of workers is suddenly in the spotlight. Often undervalued and poorly paid, it’s store clerks, sanitation workers, medical professionals and other workers who can’t stay home — even when the country is locked down. In the United States, hundreds of thousands of these so-called essential workers are employed or contracted by Amazon, whose delivery network has become an essential service for millions of Americans trapped in their homes.

Wired spoke with nine people who worked for Amazon during the Covid-19 crisis over the past two weeks and is publishing their reports on their work, in their own words. They work in Amazon fulfillment centers, deliver packages and groceries, and store food in Amazon cafeterias. Some are employed directly by Amazon while others are contractors. Each of them says they are terrified for their health and that of their families, and many feel that Amazon is not doing enough to ensure their safety. While the company has often framed its frontline workers as heroesthe people WIRED spoke to say they didn’t sign up for this level of risk.

Covid-19 has now spread to at least 50 Amazon facilities in the US, out of a total of more than 500, according to The New York Times† The outbreaks have sparked protests from workers in Detroit, New York City and Chicago, where workers said Amazon was slow to notify them of infections and not cleaning properly. At Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, staff staged a nationwide demonstration citing similar safety concerns and calling for free coronavirus testing for all employees. And more than 5,000 Amazon employees have signed a petition asking for additional benefits given the health crisis, including risk compensation and for the company to shut down any facility where an employee tests positive so it can be properly cleaned.

Amazon’s practices have caught the attention of lawmakers, including Senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Robert Menendez and Sherrod Brown, who last month sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking for answers about the company’s security measures. the workplace. “Any failure by Amazon to protect its employees will not only endanger their employees, it will endanger the entire country,” they wrote. On Wednesday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced it was investigating an Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania after workers there said their health was not being protected. Workers at a California warehouse filed similar complaints the same day with state and county regulatory authorities.

“Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis. Like all businesses struggling with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we are working hard to keep workers safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “We have taken extreme measures to protect people, tripling it through thorough cleaning, purchasing available safety features and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings keep safe distances.”

Amazon says it has made more than 150 changes to help protect its workforce, including handing out face masks to all staff, establishing social distancing protocols, dizzying shift start times and adding more space between workstations. The company also monitors whether employees have a fever when they show up for their shifts, although the practice will not detect the significant number of asymptomatic Covid-19 cases. The Amazon spokesperson said it is just “one of many preventive measures Amazon is taking to support the health and safety of our customers and employees.”

Amazon has been raising wages for hourly workers in recent weeks and said it would allow anyone worried about going to work to take unpaid leave until the end of April. After receiving criticism from lawmakers, it will also allow now anyone suspected of Covid-19 or quarantined to take two weeks of paid emergency leave. Before March 27, the company required employees to pass a positive test result to use the benefit, but a nationwide shortage of testing made that extremely difficult.

The following interviews have been abbreviated and edited for clarity.

Warehouse worker, early forties, Texas

My partner and I have both worked at Amazon for a few years. We are great at what we do. I like the work itself, but I don’t like how the company treats people – almost like they are disposable items.

Since the virus broke out in recent weeks, we have taken advantage of the unpaid – unpaid – time off. At the next paycheck, I think I’ll be paid for six hours of work. I stay at home because my mom, she got a pacemaker not too long ago, and she lives with me. We don’t want to be without money. I don’t really know how we’re going to pay our bills this month. I’m at about $200, and this stimulus check probably won’t come for another month.

Amazon issues their own little news alerts, and one of them told us to make sure we clean our scanners. They told us to do it – the people who also work on the floor, who are also responsible for getting a certain number of packages per shift. This is what kills me: When we walk through the main entrance, we hit these turnstiles to get in. Everyone has to touch them, and I’ve never, not once in my life, seen someone cleaning things up. I know that in my fulfillment center we have over 900 people working there, and we have three entrances to choose from. Only one infected person is needed.

You have people who work for $15 an hour who must now be excited that they are making $17 an hour, go out and basically endanger their families. If you say our job is so damn important, and everyone should stay home, and yet we have to show up as soldiers, why not protect us?

On the day this interview was conducted, Amazon notified the employee of a confirmed case of Covid-19 at their workplace.

By akfire1

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