Despite being on the receiving end of praise from CEO Jeff Bezos, who called them “heroes fighting for their communities,” employees working at the warehouses of online retailer Amazon say their workplace is a living hell, as they are forced to complete orders even in the middle of a lockdown.
In an interview with The Mirror, a worker for the online retail giant said he is worried about their working conditions amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The country has been told Amazon will continue to stay open to provide their customers with essential items,” the worker, who declined to be identified, said, and that Amazon’s staff are working on more than just essentials.
“We are selling the same usual stuff we would do normally with a large increase in things like garden equipment,” the worker said, noting that the store is putting him and other workers at risk of infection just to process non-essential items for customers.
In addition, several workers have come out to say that Amazon, which also owns organic natural foods grocer Whole Foods, is forcing employees to take on extra hours just to keep up with the ever-increasing demand caused by panicked and harried customers who are stockpiling food and household products in light of the current coronavirus pandemic.
While the worker says there are rules that have been put in place to “protect” them, he says they are not enough.
“We have been told to stand one meter apart at all times while security metal detectors have been switched off,” the worker said.
“There are also things such as notices telling workers to clean their stations and equipment, before and after use, but there are no cleaning supplies commonly available.”
The worker also detailed that the minimal safety measures employed by the company are not exactly practical – especially for those in the production line.
According to the worker, the company delegates each staff member as either a “Slammer” or “Taper.” As per the worker, both roles result in the employees being stationed at a conveyor belt alongside eight “Packers” that send boxes of items down for processing.
“By this point, these items have already come into contact with various workers, greatly increasing their risk of contamination,” the worker stated.
The worker’s revelation came days after confirmation that several employees working at eight different warehouses in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which originated in Wuhan, China before spreading to other parts of the globe.
The warehouses, or fulfillment centers, located in Staten Island and Queens in New York, Jacksonville, Florida, Oklahoma City, Brownstown, Michigan, Katy, Texas, Wallingford, Connecticut and Shepherdsville, Kentucky, have since been closed by the e-commerce giant for “disinfection” and “sanitation.”
Despite their employees getting sick with the virus, Amazon’s company policies say they will still run as normal, as their business is hinged on providing “essential service” to the public.
“There has already been a large number of people sick, yet management refuses to close it down,” the worker said, adding that the company has become a living hell for its employees – most of whom receive no benefits, including any paid sick leave.
“We’re given the option to not come into work without negative repercussions. However, we aren’t getting any type of financial compensation for said time, which puts us in a position where most of us who can’t afford to miss work still come in no matter how bad we feel,” a worker employed at Amazon’s Chicago facility said.
Amazon, an email, said it has offered all its warehouse workers unlimited unpaid time off through the month of March. This follows the e-commerce giant’s announcement last week that workers who get diagnosed with the coronavirus or get placed into quarantine would receive up to two weeks of paid sick leave.
“The health of our people is our top priority, and it’s important to us that they remain home if they’re sick or if they or someone in their home has had a fever in the last 24 hours. To support our people during this time we have increased entitlement to paid time off and are enabling people to take leaves of absence as appropriate,” the $947 billion company said.
Workers, however, have decried this as not being enough, given the health risks they are facing during this period.
This has led to the creation of a petition demanding protection for the e-commerce giant’s employees as they fulfill orders during what is being seen by most as a “coronavirus-fueled boom” for the company.
Among the workers’ demands are hazard pay, paid sick leave and child care, as well as the extension of paid sick leave benefits to part-time and seasonal delivery employees.