UNI Global Union and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), filed today an amicus brief in the case brought by Derrick Palmer, Kendia Mesidor, Benita Rouse, Alexander Rouse, Barbara Chandler and Luis Pellot-Chandler v. Amazon.com Inc. andAmazon.com Services LLC, which argues that the e-commerce giant must protect warehouse workers and the community at large from COVID-19.
“What we’ve learned from this pandemic is that Amazon has not made workers’ safety a priority unless they are forced to do so- either through government intervention or through prolonged strikes. Speed and volume have been the company’s priorities – with workers’ safety and wellbeing well behind. We are determined to change that,” said Christy Hoffman General Secretary of UNI Global Union.
“We urge the court to understand that this is a matter of life and death for Amazon workers and the broader community. If Amazon is aiding the spread of the COVID-19 virus, they are creating a major threat to public safety that needs to be immediately addressed” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “Amazon workers have repeatedly reported their concerns about serious issues impacting their health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we filed an Amicus brief in support of workers whose lives are at risk during this global crisis. In our country – where Amazon has prevented their employees from having union representation – workers have no other way to have their concerns heard. Amazon must do better for its workforce, and the communities where they operate. Amazon needs to listen to its workers who are at risk during this global pandemic and working under unacceptable conditions. Amazon needs to prioritize the lives and safety of their workers over profits,”
The lawsuit was filed June 4, 2020 in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn and claims that Amazon’s efforts in Staten Island to protect workers have been rife with “purposeful miscommunication with workers,” “sloppy contact tracing,” and poorly enforced social distancing. The workers who filed the suit also state that production goals were unrealistic if proper safety protocols were followed. So far, the company has refused to disclose the number of cases and retaliated against employees who dared to speak out against the unsafe conditions at work. The lawsuit is asking for a formal injunction to force Amazon to adhere to public health guidance.
The unions argue that, since the beginning of the pandemic, conditions at many Amazon warehouses have not met the basic health and safety standards prescribed by the WHO or national authorities. As the company strained to meet the increased demand for its deliveries, it increased the speed and pace of work rather than slow it down in order to allow time for hand washing and social distancing.
As the submission makes clear, when workers were represented by unions, they were able to reduce risks after calling upon the health authorities or courts to intervene, or, in some cases, by going on strike.
However, in the United States, where most Amazon warehouses are located and where there are no recognized unions, Amazon did not negotiate over conditions, refused to disclose the number of cases and retaliated against employees who dared to speak out against the unsafe conditions at work.
US Workers Fight Back
In the United States, in response to Amazon’s insufficient worker protections during the outbreak, non-union Amazon workers in over 40 Amazon facilities in California, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and New York resorted to strikes and other types of protected worker activity to protest Amazon’s working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company retaliated by firing at least three Amazon warehouse employees for “violating internal company policies.” The firings prompted increased scrutiny and calls by elected leaders like New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and New York State Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the tech giant.
Amazon Union Workers in Europe Win Additional Protection
Unlike their counterparts in the United States, Amazon workers in European countries with stronger labor protections like Italy, France and Spain were able to use union representation to advance and protect their right at work. In Italy, workers concerned about crowding, availability of PPE, and enhanced safety measures went on strike in at least five separate Amazon facilities and forced the company to abide by strict health and safety protocol.
In France, unions, including UNI affiliate, Federation des Services, CFDT, brought a civil case alleging against Amazon for not take adequate steps to protect workers from the risk of the coronavirus and of trying to sidestep the unions statutory role. The court ultimately sided with workers and unions who negotiated a settlement that included mandatory consultation with unions over safety measures, hiring of external experts by union representatives to asses effectiveness of measures, and an increase in the hourly rate for salaried workers returning to work.
In Spain, the Labour Inspectorate ordered Amazon to correct deficiencies in their health and safety plan to prevent COVID19, after the union Comisiones Obreras demanded an inspection. The company was forced to accommodate physical distance between workers, disinfect facilities where workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, provide personal protective equipment, and relax productivity quotas.
The UNI Global Union/RWDSU submission can be viewed here.
UNI Global Union represents more than 20 million workers from over 150 different countries in the fastest growing service sectors in the world. UNI and our affiliates in all regions are driven by the responsibility to ensure these jobs are decent and workers’ rights are protected, including the right to join a union and collective bargaining
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members throughout the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). For more information, please visit our website at www.rwdsu.org, Facebook:/RWDSU.UFCW Twitter:@RWDSU.