Delivery services threaten strikes over safety concerns

About 200 workers plan to strike at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse today. They are demanding the warehouse be shut down in order for it to be cleaned after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus. Amazon management planned to keep the warehouse open and for work to continue as normal. The infected person last worked at the warehouse on March 11 and received medical care. The worker is now quarantined.

200 employees intend to walk out at 12:30 p.m. and workers want more transparency from the company. There is fear a more substantial outbreak is imminent.

“We want the business closed down and sanitized before we return,” said Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the facility who is leading the walkout.

The online retail giant has been “shady and secretive,” about the outbreak, Smalls said — estimating that the real number of workers with the virus is close to seven, not one.

And staffers fear that, at a facility with more than 2,500 full-time employees, the disease will spread “like wildfire.”

“People are scared, supervisors, managers.. all levels,” Smalls said. “We’re unsafe. There are thousands of employees at risk.”

The company advises any worker who came in contact with the infected person to stay home for 14 days. They will be paid during their self-quarantine.

Amazon is well-aware of Mr. Smalls’s complaints. He is on paid sick leave himself, self-quarantined at the request of his employer. The company rejects his accusations and says it has tripled-down on cleaning facilities during this crisis and ordered people to stay home, with pay, in an abundance of caution when warranted.

“We have heard a number of incorrect comments from Christian Smalls, the hourly associate claiming to be the spokesperson on this topic. Mr. Smalls is alleging many misleading things in his statements but we believe it’s important to note that he is, in fact, on a 14-day self-quarantine requested by Amazon to stay home with full pay,” the statement said.

It said it had recently instituted daily temperature screenings at the fulfillment center.

“Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis,” the statement said. “Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable.”

Instacart, a San Francisco-based delivery app, is feeling pressure from an outside group that wants to lead a nationwide walk-out Monday. Fortunately for many of us who use this service regularly, many workers are thrilled to have a job and do not plan to join in if a walkout occurs. Gig Workers Collective demands protective gear for workers and hazard pay. Some workers say they plan to join in the walk-out but only for a day and many will simply continue to work, grateful to be working after a restaurant or other service-oriented business closed during this time of social distancing.

Summer Cooper, 39, started working as an Instacart shopper in the Tampa Bay area recently after losing her position as a server at a hotel restaurant. She was unaware of the possible strike.

“I’m grateful to have some way to make money,” Cooper said.

Darrin Burdette, an Instacart shopper in Colorado Springs, said joining a strike would “not help me in any way.”

An Uber driver, Burdette said he relies entirely on his Instacart gig since demand for ride-hailing services plunged. He said he is earning about $30 an hour as Instacart orders rise. On his app, he can see that many orders have come from people using the service for the first time.

Instacart is experiencing a boom of new customers, as is certainly logical given the fact that so many of us are hunkering down at home. I have used the app for more than a year on a regular basis and the convenience is priceless at times. Like many others, I have bumped up my normal percentage when tipping and now the app remains at that level when I use it. Normally, the tip default starts at 5%, with the customer able to increase that percentage up to 20%. That is something the company did for the workers. For comparison purposes, Instacart, Amazon, and Walmart grocery delivery services saw at least a 65% increase in sales during the week of March 2 from sales numbers during the same week last year.

Among their demands, the strike organizers want hazard pay of $5 an order and supplies of hand sanitizer, wipes and cleaning supplies free of charge. On Sunday, the company said it had contracted with a third-party manufacturer to make a hand sanitizer spray that workers can request at no cost via a website starting Monday, with shipments starting in a few days.

Instacart has started offering bonuses of between $25 and $200 for its hourly employees dependent on hours worked until April 15.

Instacart also announced a month-long extension of a temporary policy giving 14 days of paid leave to workers who are diagnosed with coronavirus or have been ordered to isolate themselves. The strike organizers that policy extended to workers with a doctor’s note verifying a pre-existing condition that could make them more vulnerable to the virus.

On Sunday, the Gig Workers Collective group posted their demands in a post on Medium. Mostly it reads as an extension of complaints that have been lodged against Instacart in the past by some workers. Those who are unhappy with the company are not thrilled that Instacart is one of the company’s that is getting good publicity for hiring workers in a time where millions of people are losing their jobs. Instacart has already responded to some demands – for example, the increase in the tip default as I mentioned above, and extending the deadline for those workers applying for benefits when they are diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. The strike is still on, though.

These two companies and how they are dealing with worker demands during a time of national crisis which places additional stresses on businesses are likely not alone. Overworked employees who feel unappreciated or fearful of being at risk themselves is probably a logical situation for employers to expect. It seems that companies are stepping up as much as possible, though. Employers need healthy workers to fulfill customer orders. Those of us using their services are grateful for what they do. We’ll see if the strike actually happens and how it goes. So far, I haven’t seen any local updates on the website.