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Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods workers protest lack of COVID-19 safety

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Amazon, Instacart, and Whole Foods workers have protested an alleged lack of COVID-19 safety precautions, sick leave, and hazard pay.

Following media reports of a “walkout” at Amazon and Instacart to protest unsafe working conditions amidst the COVID-19 crisis, and Amazon’s firing of an employee who organized that action at a Staten Island facility, New York Attorney General Letitia James has issued a warning.

Walkout organizer fired. “It is disgraceful that Amazon would terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues,” the AG said in a statement. “At the height of a global pandemic, [the employee] and his colleagues publicly protested the lack of precautions that Amazon was taking to protect them from COVID-19. Today, [the employee] was fired. In New York, the right to organize is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited. At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling and are deeply concerned about their safety, this action was also immoral and inhumane.”

The AG said that her office is considering all legal options and that she is asking the National Labor Relations Board to investigate the incident.

Although the employee contends that he was fired in retaliation for his role in the walkout, Amazon has said that he was fired for not complying with a request to self-isolate after having had contact with a worker who tested positive for COVID-19, according to media reports. The employee contends that other workers who had direct contact with the worker who tested positive were not sent home.

Workers at Instacart were also looking for paid sick leave and hazard pay.

Whole Foods workers too. Workers at Whole Foods (an Amazon subsidiary) planned to stage a similar action on March 31 to demand paid leave, free coronavirus testing, and hazard pay twice the amount of their current wage, according media reports.

Organizers asked Whole Foods workers not to go to work on March 31, advising that the company “has temporarily relaxed its strict attendance policy, which means that team members can participate in this act of protest without fear of reprisal.”

Whole Food workers are seeking:

  • Guaranteed paid leave for all workers who isolate or self-quarantine instead of coming to work.
  • Reinstatement of health care coverage for part-time and seasonal workers.
  • Increased FSA funds to cover coronavirus testing and treatment for all team members, including part-time and seasonal.
  • Guaranteed hazard pay in the form of double pay during scheduled hours.
  • Implementation of new policies that can facilitate social distancing between workers and customers.
  • Commitment to ensuring that all locations have adequate sanitation equipment and procedures in place.
  • Immediate shutdown of any location where a worker tests positive for COVID-19. In such an event, all workers should continue to receive full pay until the store can safely reopen.

According to organizers, Amazon and Whole Foods kept open an Amazon warehouse and two Whole Foods stores where employees had tested positive for COVID-19.