In a company blog post today, Amazon announced it’s creating a financial safety net for its contingent workers, making it one of the last major tech companies to do so amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook, and Google made varying pledges to continue paying hourly vendors—like cafeteria staff or bus drivers—their regular wages, despite potential cuts to their schedules. In tandem, gig economy companies, which control massive workforces for whom they do not provide health insurance, have been rolling out extremely limited versions of healthcare crediting or paid sick leave, partly in response to pressure from Congress.
Amazon is both a major tech company and a profound user of contract labor, and for some reason, despite weeks of restricting travel and other operational changes made for the safety of its full-time workforce, is only now investing in the medical needs of these workers.
“We are establishing the Amazon Relief Fund with a $25 million initial contribution focused on supporting our independent delivery service partners and their drivers, Amazon Flex participants, and seasonal employees under financial distress during this challenging time,” the company wrote today. “We will be offering all of these groups the ability to apply for grants approximately equal to up to two-weeks of pay if diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine by the government or Amazon.”
Full-time and part-time employees are also eligible for up to two weeks of pay if diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, or quarantined, though without the hassle of a grant application.
Effectively, there’s no preventative component to Amazon’s compensation plan, though the company may believe that side of the equation is already balanced by a newly relaxed attendance policy. Nor is there any indication of how many contingent workers $25 million is likely to support and for how long—a worrying prospect considering some expert estimates have placed the final exposure in the U.S. at around 150 million people.
Confirmed cases in the U.S. are believed to have topped 1,100 today, with many cities initiating bans on large public gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19, a virus with a fatality rate many times higher than typical flu. Around 125,000 cases and climbing have been reported globally.