Amazon workers to protest on Prime Day citing safety concerns

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Amazon workers are planning demonstrations across the country to coincide with the two days of the e-commerce giant’s annual Prime Day sale, with workers protesting over health and safety concerns they argue have increased amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers and community members will hold a protest outside an Amazon fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minn., on Wednesday afternoon. Organizers said dozens are expected to attend, with protesters calling for the company to ease its rate requirements to allow workers the time they need to wash their hands and take other safety precautions.

“This is not fair. We are human beings. We need to be respected,” said Fadumo, a worker at Amazon’s delivery station in Eagan, Minn., who said she will be participating in Wednesday’s protest. Fadumo, who asked to be identified only by her first name, accused Amazon of having an unsafe work environment, especially amid the pandemic.

In September, she said she was tested for the coronavirus after exhibiting symptoms. She said she was told to return to work while awaiting results for the virus despite the fact that she was symptomatic. Fadumo said she refused, as she not willing to risk the lives of more than 200 other workers, and then had to go about the process of obtaining letters to state that she would be in isolation.

A spokesperson for Amazon did not directly respond to Fadumo’s accusation that she was asked to return to work while she was symptomatic and awaiting COVID-19 results but defended the company’s safety policies put in place during the pandemic.

“We understand that some of our employees may want to join these events, and respect their rights to do so, but the fact is that Amazon provides much of what these groups are asking for – a safe work environment, industry-leading pay and competitive benefits,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. 

“Since the onset of the pandemic we moved quickly to make more than 150 COVID-19 related process changes including supplying masks, gloves, thermal cameras, thermometers, disinfectant spraying in buildings, increased janitorial teams, additional handwashing stations, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and piloting COVID testing at many of our sites,” the spokesperson added.

While organizers of Wednesday’s protest are calling for more time for workers to wash their hands and take other safety precautions, the Amazon spokesperson said workers can also spend time outside their breaks to use the bathroom, wash their hands, get water or speak to a manager as needed.

Amazon workers protested earlier this year over the company’s decision, starting in May, to end its unlimited unpaid time-off program during the pandemic. Workers say they additionally face greater risks of injury as demand increases during the annual Prime Day sale.

Injury rates reported at Amazon’s facilities have spiked during the weeks of Amazon’s Prime Day and Cyber Monday, according to internal data reported by Reveal last month.

“What we’re going to expect to see is exactly what has happened in past years — injury rates are going to spike,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“Prime Day is not something that Amazon workers can celebrate, it’s something they need to dread because of the increased risk to them for injuries and exposure to the virus during this pandemic. It is outrageous. It’s wrong,” Appelbaum added.

More than 19,000 Amazon workers contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic, according to data revealed by the company earlier this month. The announcement was the first time the company publicly shared coronavirus case numbers among its more than 1.3 million front-line employees across the nation and came after mounting scrutiny, including an NBC News report detailing a lack of transparency in the company’s coronavirus response.

Amazon said the 19,816 positive tests meant the rate of infection among employees was 42 percent lower than expected when compared with the “general population rate” in the U.S.

In addition to the protests Wednesday, a candlelight vigil is planned for Tuesday night outside Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s home in Beverly Hills, Calif., to honor essential workers for Amazon who contracted the coronavirus. The vigil is being organized by the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve working conditions in the warehouse industry in Southern California. 

Bezos, the billionaire Amazon CEO, and his private residences have been frequent targets for demonstrators protesting the e-commerce giant. 

Last week, protesters rallied outside Bezos’s Beverly Hill home calling for higher pay for Amazon warehouse workers, CBS News reported. In August, protesters calling for higher wages set up a guillotine outside Bezos’s home in Washington, D.C.

Tags Amazon Amazon Prime Jeff Bezos

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