Staten Island Amazon workers staging walkout Monday, demand closure of facility

Nation/World

Amazon employees at the company’s Staten Island, New York, facility plan to walk off the job Monday amid allegations the online retail giant has mishandled its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Employees are protesting Amazon’s decision to keep the Staten Island warehouse open despite news of a confirmed case of the virus there last week, said Christian Smalls, a process assistant at the facility who is leading the walkout.

Many more employees have tested positive for the virus at the facility than the company has publicly acknowledged, Smalls said, claiming that as many as five to seven workers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement Sunday evening that the company’s top priority is the health and safety of its employees.

The spokesperson said that Amazon “recently implemented daily temperature screenings in our operations sites as an additional preventative measure to support the health and safety of our customers and employees.”

“We believe direct communication is the best avenue to discuss feedback, and our teams onsite are speaking directly with employees each day to hear their questions and discuss options that are available in this ever changing environment,” the spokesperson said.

The walkout will begin at 12:30 p.m. and could involve anywhere between 50 and 200 people, Smalls estimated. Following the walkout, the workers will gather at a nearby public bus stop and speak to the press.

“The plan is to cease all operations until the building is closed and sanitized,” Smalls told CNN in an interview. “We’re not asking for much. We’re asking the building to be closed and sanitized, and for us to be paid [during that process].”

Before deciding on the walkout, Smalls, who said he helps his direct supervisor manage 60 to 70 people daily, said that every day for the past week, he has sought the help of the facility’s general manager — to no avail. Amazon later told CNN Smalls is not a manager and that he does not manage anyone; Smalls agreed he is not a manager on paper, but disagreed with Amazon’s claim that he does not manage other workers. Last Tuesday, Smalls said, he sent a worker home who was visibly ill.

Smalls was later put on quarantine himself. Amazon told CNN Smalls is being paid throughout his quarantine. That is consistent with prior Amazon statements that the company will pay workers who must self-isolate due to the virus. Smalls said he was informed on Saturday of his quarantine status, but that he has not yet received payment because his normal pay period does not end until the end of this week.

Smalls said he hopes Amazon relents quickly, because facilities like his are “breeding grounds for this pandemic.” Employees are being advised to continue working until they receive confirmation of a positive test result, Smalls said. But, he said, that may be too late, due to the virus’s days-long incubation period. Smalls added that he has attempted to contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, but has yet to receive a response.

On Sunday, Amazon implemented daily temperature checks for everyone entering the Staten Island facility at the beginning of their shifts, according to one worker employed there and an internal post in Amazon’s employee app that was viewed by CNN Business.

In an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter on Sunday, Jay Carney, Amazon’s senior vice president of global corporate affairs, said ensuring the safety of the company’s US employees was “our first and primary concern.”

“This is our first and primary concern, which is making sure Amazon employees — 500,000-plus in the United States — are protected as they can be as they go about doing this heroic work for their fellow citizens,” said Carney. He added: “We’ve also told employees if they’re uncomfortable coming to work, if they’re worried about their own health, they can take unlimited unpaid time off through the end of April with no repercussions at all. We don’t want anyone to feel like their job depends on coming to work in this circumstance.”

Amazon has previously said that employees who fall ill or who are quarantined will receive two weeks’ pay, and that Amazon contractors who test positive for the virus may apply for up to two weeks’ pay from a $25 million relief fund the company has established. The company has also said it is taking “extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site[s].” That includes regularly sanitizing door handles, elevator buttons, lockers and touch screens, Amazon said, as well as staggering shifts and spreading out chairs in break rooms.

In addition, workers are being asked to keep at least six feet from one another during the workday, according to Smalls. But those measures are not enough, said Smalls, who reiterated calls for Amazon to close the Staten Island facility for a deep clean.

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