germ factories —
At least five workers in Amazon’s EU warehouses have contracted COVID-19 so far.
Untold millions in the United States and around the world are following the advice of public health workers and government officials and hunkering down at home. Being at home, however, doesn’t stop consumers from consuming either necessities or the occasional frivolity. The easiest way for loads of folks to get all those things—from paper towels, diapers, and cat food to replacement crayons, a new checkers set, or a copy of the latest Animal Crossing game—is to sit down at the computer, or open a mobile app, and hit up Amazon, where business is booming.
Business is doing so well for Amazon, in fact, that the company said yesterday it needs to hire another 100,000 US warehouse and delivery workers immediately to meet demand.
The company is not being shy about potentially poaching part-time workers from other industries, such as restaurants and hospitality, whose jobs have been adversely affected by the near-total shutdown of several major US cities. “We also know many people have been economically impacted as jobs in areas like hospitality, restaurants, and travel are lost or furloughed as part of this crisis,” the company wrote. The company also said it’s basically open to hiring everyone as temps just for the duration, adding, “We want those people to know we welcome them on our teams until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back.”
In addition to creating new full-time and part-time positions to handle the crush, Amazon said it is increasing wages for warehouse workers across the board from a minimum of $15 to a floor of $17, with similar raises in other regions (“C$2 in Canada, £2 per hour in the UK, and approximately €2 per hour in many EU countries”). That increase, however, is currently only guaranteed through the end of April and may not necessarily become permanent.
Unsafe working conditions?
Workers already busting their butts in Amazon’s many fulfillment centers, however, are complaining that the company’s policies are putting them and their loved ones at risk of contracting novel coronavirus disease COVID-19.
Full-time employees at Amazon’s corporate headquarters in Seattle have been working from home for a few weeks already, after one employee tested positive for the virus. (Amazon’s corporate office, like that of many other tech firms, is now operating with the vast majority of full-time staff remote as Seattle and the Bay Area are both under shelter-in-place orders to attempt limiting the spread of the disease.)
Part- and full-time workers in the logistics arms of the business, however, obviously can’t stay home. Instead, Amazon is offering two weeks of sick pay to workers either diagnosed with the disease or placed in quarantine and is allowing employees to take unpaid time off through the end of March without being fired for it.
Many employees, both in the United States and overseas, are arguing it’s nowhere near enough.
“They’re offering no preventative solutions, only payment for workers after we’ve been infected, which doesn’t help to slow the spread of the pandemic or alleviate the suffering [and] risk of death from contracting it,” a Chicago-area Amazon warehouse worker told BuzzFeed News last week.
“Many of us feel like Amazon is being reckless with our health,” a New Jersey Amazon worker told BuzzFeed in an updated story this week. Several workers in Amazon fulfillment centers told BuzzFeed that hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are in short supply in several facilities. The warehouses are not receiving extra cleaning, they added, and “stand-up” meetings that require several workers to cram into a small space together for 10 or 15 minutes at a time are still taking place every shift.
Workers at Amazon’s UK facilities are working compulsory overtime to try to meet the demand, according to the BBC, and are concerned about the potential effect the extra hours will have on their health and susceptibility to illness.
And the illness is coming: Bloomberg News reported yesterday that at least five Amazon warehouse workers in Europe have tested positive for COVID-19. Two of those employees were at a warehouse in Italy, with the other three in Spain. Local union officials in both countries told media that Amazon rejected requests to close the facilities for deep cleaning.
“We are giving our support to the employees that are currently in quarantine,” Amazon told Bloomberg News in an emailed statement. “The security and safety of our employees is our main concern and we are following the directives of the local and international health authorities, and we have applied a series of preventative health measures in our centers across the world.”