There have been protests at Amazon warehouses in the US, France and Italy after the retail giant tried to run normal shifts despite positive cases of Covid-19.
Unions said workers were “demanding that Amazon takes their lives seriously”.
“Amazon cannot act like this is business as usual,” said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union. “We are facing a deadly virus that has already taken the lives of thousands of people and paralysed the world’s economy. If distribution centres are not safe for workers right now, they should be closed immediately.”
In Queens, New York, a facility was cleared out on Wednesday night for deep cleaning and sanitisation, the company confirmed, after an employee tested positive for the virus — believed to be the first case involving a non-office-based Amazon worker in the country.
“We are supporting the individual who is now in quarantine,” Amazon said afterwards. “In addition to our enhanced daily deep cleaning, we’ve temporarily closed the Queens delivery station for additional sanitation and have sent associates home with full pay.”
Video posted on social media showed employees arguing with facility managers about the danger of working in the facility.
On Thursday Amazon said employees at the facility were told not to come into work, and that any who did were sent home with full pay. However, activists said the company had attempted to begin the 6.45am shift as usual but workers had walked out.
In France, several hundred Amazon workers protested over what they felt were insufficient measures to protect their safety. “These pressures are unacceptable, we’ll let Amazon know,” said French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, according to Reuters. Amazon said it respected “all our employee’s rights, including the right of withdrawal”.
A spokesperson added: “We have taken strong measures to ensure the safety of our sites and continue to adjust our processes in strict compliance with the recommendations of the government and local health authorities, supporting the immediate adoption of any new guidelines by our employees.”
There have also been reports of workers at Amazon warehouses contracting coronavirus in Spain and Italy — two countries where the disease has already spread widely. Amazon has so far decided to keep these facilities open, prompting criticism from unions.
On Monday, workers at Amazon’s Italian logistics hub in Castel San Giovanni called for a strike, accusing their employer of endangering their health and safety by not slowing down work at the facility.
Britain’s GMB Union said UK Amazon employees were being told to work extended periods of overtime, putting “profit before safety”.
Amazon announced this week that it intended to hire 100,000 new part- and full-time employees in the US and Europe, in order to handle the increased demand for goods as countries enter various levels of lockdown around the world.
New and existing employees would receive a temporary pay rise of $2 an hour (£2 in UK, €2 in Europe). Amazon has also said it would temporarily suspend any non-essential goods — such as household staples or medical supplies — from entering its warehouses.
But the spread of the virus within its own ranks poses a huge threat to the company as it attempts to keep operating at full capacity. In its delivery network, which is largely managed by independent contractors with varied safety protocols, drivers have expressed concern about minimal supplies for keeping their vehicles clean.
Despite the turmoil, investor confidence in Amazon remains high as its position as a lifeline for housebound consumers becomes ever more clear. The company has recovered about $100bn in market value since Monday — though is still some $50bn short of the trillion-dollar valuation it enjoyed in mid-February.
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