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Warehouse, Grocery Workers Protesting For Increased Safety Protocols Amid Pandemic

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Workers at Amazon JFK8 protesting the company's reaction to cases of coronavirus during a walkout March 30.

Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse staged a walkout Monday, calling for the company to take action to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after seven workers at the facility tested positive for COVID-19.

Demand for e-commerce has surged as an increasing number of Americans are stuck inside their homes waiting out the pandemic, and work has continued at full capacity to meet this demand on Staten Island, at the warehouse dubbed JFK8, and in distribution and grocery hubs around the country.

Over the past two weeks, workers at Amazon warehouses nationwide spoke about conditions workers said put them at risk. They claim Amazon failed to inform them of coronavirus cases in their warehouses,  that there are no clear safety protocols in place and that their facilities lacked protective gear, according to various reports over the past two weeks. 

Workers at other warehouses have also begun to take collective action to demand preventive safety measures be taken. Instacart workers nationwide — who shop at supermarkets for the company's grocery deliveries — threatened to walk out Monday if the company did not increase safety measures, NPR reports

Employees for Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, are also planning to strike nationwide Tuesday by calling in sick, Vice reported Monday. They are seeking paid leave for all workers, free coronavirus testing and hazard pay for those that work through the pandemic.

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Worker at Amazon JFK8 protesting the company's reaction to cases of coronavirus during a walkout in March.

JFK8 workers on Staten Island Monday afternoon demanded Amazon implement a 100% paid sick leave policy and provide a plan to workers that details what they would do if COVID-19 disrupts operations, according to a press release from Athena, a coalition of progressive activism organizations and initiatives that organized the walkout.

Workers also called for Amazon to shut down the building for two weeks, saying that the company is misrepresenting the number of cases inside and not closing the warehouses for long enough after positive cases were confirmed. 

“Even if we got one coronavirus case, there is no way you can narrow down the virus. We can’t even stop it across the country right now ... what makes you think we’re going to be able to stop it inside one building,” one worker said in a video produced by Make The Road New York.

Amazon confirmed it fired a JFK8 worker, Chris Smalls, who helped organize the walkout today. 

Smalls was fired, in part, for coming on-site today despite being asked by the company to stay home for 14 days with pay after he was found to have had contact with another employee who had tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesperson for Amazon said in a statement to Bisnow Monday. 

“Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk,” the spokesperson said. 

In a statement, Athena repudiated Amazon’s reasoning for firing Smalls.

“Amazon will give a lot of reasons for why Chris Smalls was fired today. But the facts stand: at midday today, Chris stood up and called out Amazon for failing to protect our safety and our health. Hours later, he was fired." 

The spokesperson for Amazon said that the claims made by Smalls were baseless and the company was taking extreme measures to protect its employees.  

Amazon has been deep cleaning the warehouses and giving workers paid and unpaid time off, a spokesperson for Amazon told the New York Post. It closed a warehouse in Kentucky until April 1 after three workers there tested positive for COVID-19. More than 10 Amazon warehouses nationwide have had workers test positive for the disease.

Amazon is booming financially and eyeing property around New York City as real estate deals have become increasingly sparse. While the stock market plummeted over the past two weeks, Amazon’s stock price soared. It announced it would be hiring an additional 100,000 workers to meet the new demand.

The company is looking to buy four Fairway stores after the grocery chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Amazon also bought the Lord & Taylor building on Fifth Avenue for $1.15B this month.

UPDATE, MARCH 30, 11:30 P.M. ETThis story has been updated to include details on the firing of former JFK8 worker Chris Smalls.

Related Topics: Whole Foods, Amazon, protests