OVER 100 Amazon employees at a New York fulfilment centre went on strike at noon on Monday, alleging management has been unresponsive to safety concerns and the spread of the coronavirus at the facility.
The man who organised the strike has been sacked.
Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the site known as JFK8 and lead organiser of the strike, had worked at Amazon for five years at three buildings in the New York tri-state area.
Employees are demanding that the Staten Island site be closed for at least two weeks and sanitised.
The e-commerce giant closed a warehouse in Queens for cleaning after an employee tested positive. In addition, the strikers are asking for workers to be paid during this time, as well as retroactively compensating those who had already stayed home out of fears for their health and safety.
Workers began falling ill after Amazon managers came back from a trip to Seattle, Washington, the initial epicentre of the virus in the US, according to Smalls.
Smalls left work in the second week of March out of concern for his health. Smalls returned last week to rally support for a work stoppage among the building’s 4,500 employees and reiterate his concerns and recommendations to management.
‘What are we waiting for?’ he said he told the site’s general manager and head of human resources. ‘Someone to die?’
He said the company has not been transparent about how many employees at the Staten Island location have tested positive for Covid-19 and have taken insufficient safety precautions, including allowing one of his colleagues to return to work while awaiting her test results.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the total deaths for the state as of Sunday reached 965 up from 728 a day earlier. At a briefing in Albany, Cuomo said thousands of state residents will die from the virus, although he did not have precise projections.
‘At JFK8, we are working long, crowded shifts in the epicentre of a global pandemic, and Amazon has failed to provide us with the most basic safeguards, Rina Cummings, a worker at the warehouse, said in a statement.
‘We are walking out to protest the impossible choice of coming to work at a toxic workplace and possibly spreading the virus or going unpaid during an economic crisis.
‘People need to be held accountable, even Jeff Bezos himself,’ Smalls said.
‘These buildings all across the globe need to be shut down. We are the breeding ground for the coronavirus.’
Democratic lawmakers are demanding answers from Amazon over how the company is providing for the safety of its workers amid the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday, Rep. Ilhan Omar and Senator. Bernie Sanders asked the company to clarify whether it’s providing its workers with basic sanitation supplies like hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes while on the job.
The lawmakers also pressed for information about whether Amazon’s warehouses are being reconfigured to align with CDC social distancing guidelines, which recommend that people remain six feet apart at all times.
Amazon has seen a spike in sales amid the coronavirus outbreak and said earlier this month that it plans to hire an additional 100,000 workers to meet the rise in demand. But sanitation supplies like hand sanitiser and cleaning wipes have run low at some warehouses.
Earlier last week, Amazon temporarily shut down one of its warehouses in Kentucky until April 1 after 3 workers tested positive for Covid-19.
‘As reliance on your business grows, so do the demands on your employees, as do the risks they face personally,’ Omar and Sanders wrote in their letter to Bezos.
- US nurses in California held a lunchtime protest last Friday over the lack of personal protective equipment.
A statement announcing the action said: To protest the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health care workers during this Covid-19 pandemic, registered nurses at the University of California San Diego (Hillcrest) are holding an action and media availability during their lunchtime to describe current conditions and the need for more N95 respirators and other protective gear required to safely treat COVID-19 patients, announced California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, representing 150,000 registered nurses across the country.’
National Nurses United is stepping up pressure on hospital employers across the US to provide safer facilities for health care workers and patients as confirmed coronavirus cases, and COVID-19 deaths, continue to skyrocket.
In recent days NNU has filed over 125 complaints with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offices in 16 states charging individual hospitals with failing to provide safe workplaces, as required by law.
Most of the filings concern insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses and their co-workers which exposes health care workers and patients to severe risk of infection and further spreading of the dangerous virus. Complaints also cite other unsafe conditions, such as improper isolation rooms for infected, or suspected infected, patients.
‘This is a national emergency and far too many hospitals are still failing to ensure that our caregivers who are placing their own safety at grave risk have the protections they need to stay at the bedside for their patients,’ said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN.
Across the US, hundreds of health care workers have been infected, even with incomplete reports, with deaths of health care workers already reported in New York and Georgia.
Since January, NNU has pressed hospitals, and public agencies to ramp up the virus response with stronger safety standards in hospitals, optimal PPE, such as N95 respirator masks, full head to toe protective clothing, and other precautions.
Instead, many failed to act. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even rolled back recommended guidelines giving hospitals a green light to tell health care workers they could treat Covid-19 patients with far inferior coverings, such as loose-fitting surgical masks, and even bandanas or scarves.
‘We have learned from tragedies in Italy and Spain that hospitals have become a major vector for the spread of Covid-19. That is happening in the US now too. It is long past time for our hospitals to do more, far more, to guarantee they will protect the frontline nurses and other staff who are putting their own lives in grave danger every day,’ Castillo said.
In about a dozen cases, so far, state OSHA branches have required the hospitals to respond within five days confirming that they are investigating and addressing the violation or face on-site investigation which could be followed by citations and fines for continuing to operate unsafe facilities.
At Marin General Hospital near San Francisco, for example, state regulators warned the hospital it “failed to provide necessary PPE to employees who may provide care to suspected Covid-19 cases.’ Additionally, that the hospital was not meeting California’s standard, among the strongest in the nation, of an exposure plan and workplace precaution controls for airborne transmission as well as the more lax just droplet contagion.
Near Chicago, the state OSHA office notified Ingalls Memorial Hospital that it has received notice of alleged workplace hazards of ‘nurses assigned work in negative pressure units with Covid-19 patients not provided appropriate PPE and N95 respirators,’ and ‘required to re-use PPE and N95 respirators or over extend their recommend use.’ Additionally, the hospital reportedly has ‘some negative pressure rooms (that) do not function properly.”
Additionally, NNU members have submitted over 1,400 electronic complaints directly to employers citing similar concerns. NNU members have also engaged in multiple facility protests as well, including candlelight vigils and standing outside facilities, with signs and proper social distancing, to alert the public to unsafe safety protections inside.
California accounts for over 60 per cent of the filings, at a time the state health department has been underfunding public health budgeting for a decade.
‘With these filings, we are making it clear to both the hospitals and our state regulatory agencies that they have an essential job to do to protect public health and safety,’ said Stephanie Roberson, legislative director for the California Nurses Association/NNU.
‘If they don’t act now, our hospitals will quickly become overwhelmed with patients, and we will face a dire shortage of nurses who will themselves be sickened and no longer available to care for patients,” Roberson said.