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Warehouse Workers ‘Are Forcing Amazon To Take COVID-19 Seriously’ - After ‘Missed’ Warnings, ‘Haphazard’ Quarantines & A ‘Fired’ Protest Organizer, Amazon ‘Is Finally Instituting New’ Safety Measures

Published Tuesday, May 12, 2020 10:00 am
by Josh Dzieza/The Verge
Warehouse Workers ‘Are Forcing Amazon To Take COVID-19 Seriously’ - After ‘Missed’ Warnings, ‘Haphazard’ Quarantines & A ‘Fired’ Protest Organizer, Amazon ‘Is Finally Instituting New’ Safety Measures

(STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK) – In late March, Barbara Chandler drove from her home in Queens to the Staten Island Amazon warehouse where she’d worked for three years.  The streets were emptier than usual.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had ordered all non-essential businesses to close two days before and the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state had just passed 20,000 - but the warehouse, called JFK8, was busier than ever, deluged with orders from a locked-down populace.

Chandler’s Co-Workers at JFK8 had been getting sick for weeks but none, as far as she knew, with COVID-19.  Still, it was unnerving. T

The day before, she sent home one of her team members after they vomited at their station, visited the in-house medical facility, Amcare, and attempted to continue working.

A week earlier, she sent several sick Co-Workers to Amcare, including one who said her fiancé had COVID-19 and whom Chandler never saw again.

Chandler, 40, had begun to feel unwell over the weekend, but she’d checked her temperature and wasn’t feverish.

Just in case, she’d gone to get a Coronavirus test after work the day before.

She felt she needed to keep working as she waited for the result.

Amazon would give her two weeks of paid leave if she tested positive for COVID-19, but if she was sick with something else, she’d have to take time off without pay.

She had three children to support and she was already starting to feel better.

A week later, JFK8 would become the first of several Amazon Facilities to have Workers walk out in protest, calling for the warehouse to be closed and cleaned after Workers tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon’s subsequent firing of the Organizer intensified the national spotlight and elicited condemnation from Unions, promises of a state investigation, and letters from lawmakers.

As the largest Amazon facility in the most severe COVID-19 hotspot in the U.S., the clash at JFK8 serves as a preview of tensions rising throughout Amazon’s fulfillment network.

On one side, there’s a company that sees itself as providing a vital service to millions of homebound Americans and is determined to maintain operations amid the crisis.

On the other, there are Workers who feel increasingly unsafe at their jobs and, as Amazon struggles to staff its warehouses to meet unprecedented demand, newly empowered to push for changes.

Amazon has already made a number of policy changes in response to the pandemic, many of them long-desired by Workers.

In mid-March, it announced that Employees could take unlimited time off without pay (previously, they would be fired for more than taking a certain amount), and they would receive up to two weeks of paid leave if they tested positive for COVID-19 or were placed in quarantine.

Later, the company raised pay by $2 per hour, doubled overtime pay, and gave part-Time Workers paid time off.

As the virus spread, Amazon moved warehouse break room tables apart, staggered shifts, canceled stand-up meetings, and made other adjustments to enable greater distance between Workers.

But interviews with 12 JFK8 Employees, as well as Workers at other warehouses, show the implementation of safety precautions has been uneven.

To Continue Reading This Labor News Story, Go To: www.theverge.com/2020/4/10/21216172/amazon-coronavirus-protests-response-safety-jfk8-fired-covid-19

 

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