While covid-19 tears through Amazon facilities, prompting at least one OSHA probe, Jeff Bezos is enjoying the quarter of a lifetime. Recode has observed that with the combined damage to temporarily-shuttered retailers and a 35 percent rise in consumer spending on Amazon since this time last year, Amazon may ride those gains forever. Now, less than a month after the company made 100,000 new hires, it’s announced that it’ll be adding 75,000 more warehouse, shopper, and driver positions.
This may be good news for some of the 17 million Americans who filed for unemployment over the past month. But the takers risk going to work ten-hour shifts in facilities where covid-19 has been spreading, where workers have reported that facilities are “sanitized” with dirty rags, and social distancing barriers exist for company photos. Amazon workers in California who recently asked for a government safety investigation alleged that the hand sanitizer is in short supply and noted that they have to take long trips out of strictly-audited bathroom breaks in order to access soap and water. (According to the Los Angeles Times, Amazon claims that it’s relaxed its merciless break limits since the outbreak of covid-19.) Workers have spoken of reporting to their shifts in tears for fear of infecting vulnerable relatives. In New York, Detroit, and Chicago, Amazon workers have been protesting for facilities to shut down for cleaning. Amazon has not honored that request.
Amazon has pivoted to calling its workers “heroes,” although they’d rather ditch the honorific for time-and-a-half hazard pay. Instead, the company has offered unpaid time off and two weeks’ sick leave pay for workers with a covid-19 diagnosis—amongst a testing shortage and CDC recommendations for most to recover at home. Some workers complained to Business Insider that even after producing a doctor’s note or test results, HR has not provided information on how to obtain sick pay.
The company has gestured at lower-cost safety measures, such as providing masks, company-wide temperature checks, and an extremely limited testing lab. In a blog post, the company asserts the fact that widespread testing could help sort sick workers from the healthy ones, and everyone can rejoin the workforce. Not everyone can wish away social distancing—unless they’re Amazon.
But as Amazon amasses unprecedented power, workers at the forefront of the news cycle are holding them to account. The company has offered a temporary $2/hour pay raise, which, the Washington Post has noted, followed worker protests in Spain and Italy. (Amazon claims it was just doing the right thing.) Senators are demanding answers. New York Attorney General Letitia James has said that her office will be “exploring all legal options” to pursue Amazon for firing a protest organizer, against whom the company had planned a smear campaign. Tech workers are expressing solidarity. Amazon’s workers have our attention, and Amazon’s lame salvo of counter-programming shows that the company is aware.