March 17—In the wake of COVID-19 outbreaks in Amazon warehouses, a global alliance of unions is calling on the company to take a series of urgent measures to protect workers and their communities.
The alliance, coordinated by UNI Global Union, is making these demands as workers in Italy are striking and workers in Spain are filing complaints to make the company fulfil its legal and ethical obligations to provide a safe workplace.
Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union said “Amazon workers are on the front lines of this crisis. Amazon is facing increased demand as families around the world prepare to stay home, and with that increased demand comes increase risk for workers. Workers are doing their part, but Amazon is failing to abide by safety rules set by governments in Spain and Italy once again putting profits over people. Amazon needs to negotiate with unions to ensure worker safety and smoothly functioning supply chains.”
Italian Amazon workers are on strike in Castel San Giovanni (Piacenza) and announced a “state of agitation” in facilities in Piedmont and Passo Corese near Rome over unsafe conditions. Already, Amazon warehouse employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
Italian Union CGIL claims that Amazon is not fully adhering to COVID-19 protocols jointly negotiated between trade unions and the government.
Tania Scacchetti, Confederal Secretary of CGIL, said “Amazon workers are mobilizing for their health as the e-commerce multinational continues to fail to provide the right protection. The company puts productivity and profit before safeguarding the personal safety of its employees.”
After confirmed coronavirus cases in Amazon warehouses in Barcelona and Madrid, Spanish union Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO) has filed a complaint with authorities in Barcelona over Amazon’s response to the outbreak.
Additionally, in the United States the company has been rapidly hiring workers to fill growing demand. In the United Kingdom, workers are reportedly being forced to work overtime.
“Amazon is once again putting its own profits ahead of worker safety,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and of UNI Global Commerce. “Jeff Bezos should remember that workers make Amazon run, and that his continued denial of workers’ rights is inconsistent with effectively mitigating this crisis.”
Appelbaum is also the President of the Amazon Alliance.
The full statement of the alliance is below:
Union alliance responds to Amazon’s inadequate coronavirus measures
Amazon should not put profit above the health of employees and the safety of their communities. The company is experiencing a dramatic spike in demand, which means more delivery and warehouse workers are working at a faster rate at a time when public health experts recommend caution and social distancing.
For office workers, Amazon has restricted travel and asked employees to work from home, but it has not taken equal, adequate measures to address the crisis in its “fulfilment centres”—including consulting with workers and unions. Amazon can and must do better to keep workers safe.
Given the confirmation of coronavirus cases in Amazon’s warehouses, the unions of the Amazon Alliance call on the company to open a dialogue with workers and unions, at local, regional, and national levels regarding steps taken to protect workers and subcontractors.
- Give workers all necessary protective equipment, frequent and regular hand washing breaks, and the required space for “social distancing” within the warehouses. If these measures slow down the pace of work, do not penalize workers for failing to hit targets. With mass employment and frequent interpersonal contacts, fulfilment centres are extremely susceptible to contamination. It takes extra time to protect the safety of not only workers, but of customers.
- Enhance facility and vehicle cleaning and if necessary, temporarily take facilities offline for deep cleaning.
- Give workers adequate paid sick leave to deal with the impact of the coronavirus. Amazon shouldn’t force workers to choose between their family’s health and paying rent or buying food—this is not consistent with stopping the spread of the virus.
- Pay workers for all normally scheduled hours in the case of temporary closures or limited hours of operation of any Amazon worksites due to the coronavirus. In the case of full or partial closures, contract drivers should still be paid at their normal rate for the time they would otherwise be working. Do not force workers to use holidays or accrued vacation time for closures related to the virus.
- Make overtime voluntary, as workers may have extra responsibilities with school closures and sick loved ones.
- Require all subcontractors, including staffing agencies and delivery service partners, to take common-sense steps to protect the safety of workers and customers. Many Amazon contractors are already forced to operate at razor-thin margins, and Amazon must commit to reimbursing contractors for additional costs related to cleaning, providing personal protective equipment, and paying sick leave.
This crisis can be an opportunity for Amazon to learn that social dialogue and collective bargaining are vital tools that modern societies and companies use to protect workers’ health and save people’s lives. Coordinated by UNI Global Union, the alliance is comprised of unions from 22 countries including ver.di, the GMB, CCOO, CGIL, the RWDSU, and the Teamsters.