About 100 Amazon.com Inc. employees at a New York fulfillment center plan to go on strike at noon on Monday, alleging management has been unresponsive to safety concerns and the spread of the coronavirus at the facility.
Employees are demanding that the Staten Island site be closed for at least two weeks and sanitized. The e-commerce giant closed a warehouse in Queens for cleaning after an employee tested positive, as reported by The Atlantic. In addition, they’re asking for workers to be paid during this time, as well as retroactively compensating those who had already stayed home out of fears for their health and safety.
Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the site known as JFK8 and lead organizer of the strike, has worked at Amazon for five years at three buildings in the New York tri-state area. Colleagues began falling ill after Amazon managers came back from a trip to Seattle, Washington, the initial epicenter of the virus in the U.S., according to Smalls.
He left work in the second week of March out of concern for his health. Smalls returned last week to rally support for a work stoppage among the building’s 4,500 employees and reiterate his concerns and recommendations to management.
“What are we waiting for?” he said he told the site’s general manager and head of human resources. “Someone to die?”
He says the company has not been transparent about how many employees at the Staten Island location have tested positive for Covid-19 and have taken insufficient safety precautions, including allowing one of his colleagues to return to work while awaiting her test results.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said total deaths for the state as of Sunday reached 965 up from 728 a day earlier. At a briefing in Albany, Cuomo said thousands of state residents will die from the virus, although he did not have precise projections.
“At JFK8, we are working long, crowded shifts in the epicenter of a global pandemic, and Amazon has failed to provide us with the most basic safeguards,” Rina Cummings, a worker at the warehouse, said in a statement. “We are walking out to protest the impossible choice of coming to work at a toxic workplace and possibly spreading the virus or going unpaid during an economic crisis.”
News of the planned strike was first reported by CNBC. Amazon did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment.
“People need to be held accountable, even Jeff Bezos himself,” Smalls said in a telephone interview. “These buildings all across the globe need to be shut down. We are the breeding ground for the coronavirus.”
Employees have taken to Facebook and Instagram groups to organize the details of the work stoppage and share stories of working conditions, he said.
— With assistance by Josh Eidelson, and Giulia Camillo