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Amazon workers to strike at New York site over virus concerns

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A sign is lit on the facade of an Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island in New York.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A sign is lit on the facade of an Amazon fulfillment center on Staten Island in New York.

About 100 Amazon.com Inc. employees at a New York fulfillment center plan to go on strike at noon on Monday, alleging management has been unresponsive to safety concerns and the spread of the coronavirus at the facility. Employees are demanding that the Staten Island site be closed for at least two weeks and sanitized. The e-commerce giant closed a warehouse in Queens for cleaning after an employee tested positive, as reported by The Atlantic.

In addition, they’re 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. Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the site known as JFK8 and lead organizer of the strike, has worked at Amazon for five years at three buildings in the New York tri-state area. Colleagues began falling ill after Amazon managers came back from a trip to Seattle, the initial epicenter of the virus in the U.S., according to Smalls.

He 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 says 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.

“Amazon’s inaction has left workers with no other choice but to walk out of an unsafe work environment to protect their own and everyone’s health,” said Dania Rajendra, director of Athena, a group that advocates for hourly workers and small businesses, and a frequent critic of Amazon. “Enough is enough.”

Athena is leading a coalition expressing concerns of the workers. News of the planned strike was first reported by CNBC. Amazon did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment.” People need to be held accountable, even Jeff Bezos himself,” Smalls said in a telephone interview. “These buildings all across the globe need to be shut down. We are the breeding ground for the coronavirus.”

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