- National labor union leaders sent a letter to Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, April 1 demanding safety improvements for U.S. warehouse workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The group included the AFL-CIO; the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
- The groups called for the "swift" reinstatement of Chris Smalls, a worker at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island the company said was terminated for violating social distancing guidelines, including orders to remain home after coming in contact with a coworker who tested positive for COVID-19. However, Smalls alleged he was fired for organizing a protest March 30 over fears of a COVID-19 outbreak at the warehouse. New York Attorney General Letitia James is calling on the National Labor Relations Board to investigate Amazon's actions.
- Union leaders said unsafe working conditions persist and "the actual situation in warehouses does not match Amazon's public relations statements." They called for the temporary closure of Amazon warehouses in the U.S. and full pay for workers until safety is improved. The unions also called for full compensation for workers who cannot return to work due to an ill family member or the need to self-quarantine, and a public statement from Amazon listing improved protocols for worker safety.
Workers and consumers are holding companies accountable for providing a safe work environment as employees in distribution centers find themselves on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon has hired nearly 100,000 employees over the last month, and plans to hire 75,000 more to keep up with e-commerce demand driven by social distancing.
A day after unions demanded Amazon increase worker protections, Dave Clark, the company's senior vice president of worldwide operations, posted a blog update on safety precautions. Temperature checks for employees began March 29 in select cities across the U.S., Clark said. Anyone with a temperature over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit was asked to return home, and could only resume work after three days without a fever, according to the blog post.
Procurement teams are working to keep a steady supply of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer, and the "millions of masks we ordered weeks ago" have started to arrive, Clark said. "Any N-95 masks we receive we are either donating to healthcare workers on the front lines or making them available through Amazon Business to healthcare and government organizations at cost," he said.
In an April 6 blog post, Amazon said it will increase worker wages. "We're increasing pay for hourly employees by $2 an hour in the U.S.," the company said. Pay will comparatively increase for workers in Canada and Europe.
Despite Amazon's efforts since March 18, when a worker at a facility in Queens tested positive for COVID-19, there have been reported cases in more than 50 other facilities across the U.S., according to The New York Times.
But Amazon isn't alone in facing such issues. At the end of March, the Teamsters and UPS agreed on paid leave for UPS Freight workers who may be affected by the coronavirus. UPS also said it had instituted "enhanced cleaning" in all facilities, along with other measures for drivers and warehouse workers.