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Supply Chain News: Strikes at Amazon FC, Instacart Fizzle


Amazon Says only 15 Workers Participated, then Fires Walkout Leader

March 31, 2020
SCDigest Editorial Staff

As with previous planned walkout at Amazon, the highly publicized action workers at a fulfillment center in Staten Island was mostly a dud.

With plans to protest how Amazon has reacted to the coronavirus crisis in handling infected workers, protecting employees generally, and offering insufficient paid sick leave.

Only two case of COVID-19 at the FC have been confirmed by Amazon, but workers say there have been at least 10.

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Then late Monday, Amazon fired walkout leader Smalls, for violating "multiple safety issues."

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"We're not returning to work until they close the building down,'' said Chris Smalls, a manager assistant at the FC who coordinated the walkout.

Smalls added that about 5,000 workers are in the building during the course of a week, and that all those employees "know at lunch time, when they clock out, do not return.''

It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Only a little more than 60 workers participated in the walkout Monday, according to an estimate from the New York Communities for Change, an advocacy group that has helped organize workers at the Staten Island site.

Amazon said actually only 15 employees participated in the walkout.

That figure was similar to walkouts at other FCs on Amazon Prime Day, with a very small percentage of workers leaving the job – no doubt in part over fears of being let go.

In addition to the demands noted above, workers are lobbying for better up-to-date information about infections at the facility and how Amazon intends to address them, a temporary closure of the facility for cleaning during which the workers would receive full pay, and childcare for workers who now have kids at home from school.

Amazon used a statement to dispute claims that its FC workers face unsafe conditions.

"These accusations are simply unfounded. Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis. Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable," the statement says.

"We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances. The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day," the statement adds.

As with fulfillment workers at other retailers such as Walmart and Target and workers at many other Amazon FCs, workers at the Staten Island facility recently received a $2 per hour raise.

Amazon it has also implemented daily temperature screenings at the facility. Workers diagnosed with coronavirus or placed into quarantine will receive up to two weeks of full pay, in addition to unlimited unpaid time off during the month of March, the company added.

Then late Monday, Amazon fired walkout leader Smalls, for violating "multiple safety issues," including instructions from the company to stay home with pay for 14 days because he had been in close contact with an infected employee. He instead came to the FC Monday for the walkout , the company said.

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Meanwhile, a small number of employees – actually independent contractors - at retail delivery firm Instacart also walked off the job Monday.

Leaders of that action say the company has not provided them with proper protective items like disinfectants and are demanding hazard pay of an extra $5 per order and a higher default tip in the settings of the app.

But as with Amazon, the number of workers taking part in the walkout appears to have been very small.

A spokeswoman for the company said it has seen "absolutely no impact to Instacart's operations."

And at Amazon’s Whole Foods grocery store chain, workers are organizing a "sick out" strike for Tuesday to demand better protections on the job.

Whole Foods workers will call in sick Tuesday and demand paid sick leave for those who stay at home or self-quarantine during the pandemic. They will also demand free coronavirus testing for employees and hazard pay.

The effort seems poorly organized, and appears likely to have similar low levels of participation.

Do you think these walkouts  will ever get any critical mass? Should Amazon and Instacart be doing more to protect workers? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.




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