An Amazon employee protesting on Friday
An Amazon employee protesting on Friday

Amazon sends thank you t-shirts to warehouse workers while it ends coronavirus hazard pay

One worker said the gesture did not 'feel sincere' while another described it as a 'slap in the face' after workers have died from the coronavirus

Adam Smith
Monday 18 May 2020 18:45
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Shopping giant Amazon is handing out branded merchandise to its warehouse workers during the coronavirus pandemic after cutting the hazard-pay increase it gave workers.

Amazon employees, speaking anonymously to Business Insider, said that the company had sent the t-shirts to warehouse workers. On the front, the shirt reads “Thanks to you" while the back says "Together, we'll deliver”.

“With states opening up and over 21 cases at our warehouse so far and at least one death at the Indianapolis warehouse, it's a slap in the face,” one worker said.

“It felt like they are trying to change the narrative that is reflected in the news, as it looks negatively upon the company. While I hate to sound ungrateful for anything, putting a big 'Thank you' on the shirt was a clear indication they wanted to sway our thoughts. It just didn't feel sincere,” said an employee in Texas.

“Amazon is an economic juggernaut with the world's wealthiest CEO at the helm, surely such a titan can afford to pay his employees a mere two dollars extra,” one worker in Maryland, Virginia said.

This comes as Amazon’s $2-per-hour hazard pay, which warehouse workers have between March and June, is being phased out. “We continue to see heavy demand during this difficult time and the team is doing incredible work for our customers and the community,” an Amazon spokesperson said at the time.

At the end of April, Amazon also ended its unpaid time off policy that it brought in during the coronavirus. The policy let workers leave work without losing their jobs, although they would not be paid and the policy did not cover sick leave.

An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement: "This appreciation pay incentive enabled us to deliver essential items to communities during these unprecedented times. We are grateful to associates supporting customers during a time of increased demand, and are returning to our regular pay and overtime wages at the end of the month."

Chris Smalls explains conditions at Amazon warehouse in NY

Amazon has been repeatedly criticised for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, with workers at its distribution centres dying from the deadly virus.

Christian Smalls, a worker at the Staten Island warehouse who was fired after organising a walkout over Amazon’s lacklustre coronavirus protection, said the company is “capitalising at the expense of human life”

Amazon management attempted to smear Smalls as part of its strategy in response to the walkout. “He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers,” wrote Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky in notes from a meeting which was attended by CEO Jeff Bezos. Zapolsky since said that he “let the emotions draft my words and get the better of me.”

Two other workers, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, were also fired after publicly denouncing the company’s response to the coronavirus leading to Amazon vice president Tim Bray resigning over the “climate of fear” the company was trying to create.

"Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison,” Bray wrote.

An Amazon spokesperson said: "We did not terminate Mr. Smalls employment for organizing a 15-person protest. We terminated his employment for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment. Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines. He was also found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14-days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world. Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite further putting the teams at risk."

"We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies. We terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions or safety, but rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies," the company spokesperson continued.

This comes as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos adds $24 billion to his personal fortune while people are locked down during the pandemic, as other billionaires have done, and could soon become the world’s first trillionaire.

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