As much of the world has ground to a temporary halt over stay at home orders, Amazon has continued churning. The retail giant is nothing if not an essential business for many in the U.S. and abroad, as everyday tasks like going to the supermarket and drugstore have become hazardous.
While the company has continued providing necessary supplies for many, its labor policies have entered the spotlight — certainly not a first for Amazon. While the company has consistently batted away suggestions of unfair or unsafe working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of workers this week have planned mass protests of policies.
Workers’ rights group United for Respect says more than 300 Amazon employees from 50 facilities plan to take part in the protest. The organization writes, “Amazon’s response to the Coronavirus outbreak has unnecessarily put the lives of Amazon employees at increased risk and exposure,” citing a large number of facilities where employees have contracted the virus.
The organization calls for additional transparency around confirmed COVID-19 cases, more sanitation and various additional benefits, including two weeks of paid sick leave and health for “part-time, drivers, temporary and contracted associates.”
Amazon sent a strongly worded denial to TechCrunch, calling reports of the protests overblown and reiterating its record.
“Reports of employee participation in today’s event organized by labor unions are grossly exaggerated,” Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski said in the statement. “Already today more than 250,000 people have come to work today, even more than last week to serve their communities. We couldn’t be more grateful and proud for their efforts during this time. The union organizers claims are also simply false – what’s true is that masks, temperature checks, hand sanitizer, increased time off, increased pay, and more are standard across our network because we care deeply about the health and safety of our employees. We encourage anyone to compare the health and safety measures Amazon has taken, and the speed of their implementation, during this crisis with other retailers.”
Last week, two additional employees reported firings they believed were tied to their public criticism of Amazon policy. In March, a Staten Island employee who was critical of working conditions was also fired.
Amazon denied the connection. “We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions,” it told TechCrunch, “but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies. We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies.”