Amazon, Walmart, Target and delivery workers plan mass protests over workplace safety

Nurses demand protective gear to treat coronavirus patients as retail employees stage walkouts across US to demand hazard pay and other protections

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 01 May 2020 18:25
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Amazon workers delivery drivers to walk out as part of mass retail protest

Workers at Amazon, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, FedEx and several grocery delivery services are planning mass walkouts following complaints that they have not been provided with sufficient protection from the coronavirus, following a series of workplace protests and other actions as their employers see record profits.

Retail worker organisers announced that employees plan to walk out or call in sick on Friday as part of an unprecedented strike among some of the biggest US retailers to demand stronger workplace protections, including hazard pay, guaranteed paid sick leave and sufficient protective gear.

Meanwhile, hundreds of nurses at dozens of hospitals across the country are staging protests to demand personal protective equipment while treating Covid-19 patients over the last several weeks.

The strikes include warehouse and grocery workers with Amazon and Whole Foods, which is owned by the tech and retail giant, and gig workers with delivery services Instacart and Shipt, which is owned by Target.

Mass protests on 1 May, or International Workers Day, follow several other actions among non-union essential workers, including walkouts among Amazon workers in New York and hundreds of Instacart workers in March.

Meatpacking plant workers, sanitation employees, bus drivers and other workers have also planned strikes and walked off shifts over the past month as the US death toll climbs to more than 63,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Retailer strikers also are urging customers to avoid crossing the virtual picket line through massive boycotts, which have been amplified across social media.

A union representing workers with grocery retailer Trader Joe's,which is not named among the protests, has encouraged workers who are not "at risk" to join.

Nurses at 139 hospitals in 13 states, representing more than 95,000 nurses, will also hold workplace protests to demand "optimal" personal protective equipment in the face of the pandemic, following the coronavirus-related deaths of more than 60,000 people in the US, including 60 nurses.

National Nurses United executive director Bonnie Castillo said: "Nurses signed up to care for their patients. They did not sign up to sacrifice their lives on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic ... On this day that celebrates the labour movement and working people, union nurses are standing up to demand the protections they need now."

The nurses union is demanding officials provide them with air-purifying respirators, single-use N95s, coveralls that cover the head and feet, and gloves.

"Otherwise, hospitals will remain fomites for infection ... and nurses and health care workers will continue to get sick and sidelined, die, and be unable to care for the next wave of patients," a union statement said.

Amazon has reported spending more than $800m on coronavirus-related work protections. Walmart claims it performs daily temperature checks and provides some protective gear to its retail and warehouse workers, and Target has reported deep cleaning its stores.

Instacart workers also declared victory last month after the company agreed to provide personal protective gear following protests, though some workers have said they have yet to receive any, or have received only broken supplies.

Whole Worker, a group of Amazon-owned Whole Foods employees, has maintained a growing list of confirmed coronavirus cases among its workers. It has identified at last 263 cases, including two deaths, across 136 stores, as of 1 May, according to the group.

A group of Amazon workers has tallied at least 500 cases among employees across 125 facilities.

A statement from Amazon worker organisers on Wednesday said: "Because of the failings of our employers, many of our fellow employees have contracted this deadly virus and some have died ... Although there have been some changes in company policies, they are not enough to adequately protect us."

On Thursday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reported that the company saw a 26 per cent increase in sales in the first financial quarter, while the company's net income fell 31 per cent and shares fell by roughly 5 per cent as Amazon spent more to address a spike in orders from the retailer

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