This week, Amazon workers in the United States won an important victory after the company made changes to its insufficient COVID-19 safety policy following the lawsuit filed in June by three New York warehouse workers and three family members. The day before a scheduled court hearing to decide whether Amazon should be immediately forced to change its safety procedures, the company announced that time away from the job to wash hands would not be grounds for discipline.
“It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to move Amazon to announce that it won’t punish workers for washing their hands. That shows just how brutal the working conditions are for warehouse workers, and the constant pressure during the pandemic for workers to keep up an unrelenting pace,” said Christy Hoffman General Secretary of UNI Global Union.
“Amazon’s incredible wealth and power have been growing during the pandemic, but the conditions on the job have only improved when the company has been forced to act in the interest of workers.”
UNI Global Union and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that, as evidenced in Italy, France, Spain, and other European countries, unions can and have played a crucial role to hold Amazon and other companies accountable and put the welfare of the public first.
The lawsuit, filed on June 3, 2020, in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, claims that the Amazon JFK8 warehouse, which employs about 5,000 workers was a “place of danger” putting both workers and the community at risk.
It said that Amazon forces employees to work at “dizzying speeds, even if doing so prevents them from socially distancing, washing their hands, and sanitizing their work spaces.” It further claimed that the company’s efforts were 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.
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 to allow time for hand washing and social distancing. Now, in light of legal pressure and worker activity, Amazon has told workers in New York that they won´t be punished for taking extra time to wash their hand.