If you’ve turned on your tv recently, you know it’s impossible to get through a commercial break without multiple somber ads about the crucial role played by essential workers of all stripes during our “new normal”.
But despite all the televised gratitude and short-term pay raises from some employers, plenty of workers at places like Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, and Target are putting their lives on the line every time they show up to work with insufficient protections and benefits.That perilous situation has inspired what could be a widespread walkout of grocery store and retail workers on May 1st, also known as May Day, which functions as a labor holiday outside the US.
According to The Intercept, frontline workers at companies including Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target and even FedEx plan to stage a “sickout” and walk off the job on Friday in the hope of extracting what they see as much-needed concessions from their employers. They include the institution of hazard pay or paid sick leave for the entirety of the pandemic, sufficient PPE and cleaning supplies, as well as greater corporate transparency with regards to how many workers have fallen ill.
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At places like Whole Foods, employee frustration stems from a perceived lack of transparency and accountability. Whole Worker, a network of the company’s employees, had to crowdsource data in order to discover that two employees have allegedly died from COVID-19 so far. As such, the “Sick Out Pledge” circulated by Whole Worker asserts that the Amazon-owned company’s concerns for worker safety are insufficient.
“It is impossible to properly follow social distancing guidelines in stores,” the document reads. “Our current paid sick leave policy, which requires a formal diagnosis or a doctor-ordered quarantine in order to receive two weeks pay, is not adequate to keep workers safe.”
While Whole Foods and Instacart workers already staged protests at the end of March, the May 1st walkout will come after a month of deaths on the job and other developments have strengthened the workers’ case for better treatment. Amazon has seen its value increase during the pandemic, making Jeff Bezos $24 billion richer in the process. Grocery delivery service InstaCart became profitable for the first time in April. Simultaneously, Amazon courted controversy for how it handled the firing of Chris Smalls, an organizer behind a March 31st walkout at a Staten Island fulfillment center.
Smalls is now one of the lead organizers behind the broader May 1st effort, which he hopes will send an even stronger message. “It’s more powerful when we come together,” Smalls told Motherboard. “We formed an alliance between a bunch of companies because we all have one common goal, which is to save the lives of workers and communities.”
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For its part, an Amazon spokesperson says the company “object[s] to the irresponsible actions of labor groups in spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon” during the crisis.
So how should the non-essential among us think about the strike? If you'd like to support the cause, don't virtually cross the picket line on May 1st. That means not shopping on Amazon, making grocery trips to Whole Foods or Target, or placing an order through Instacart or Shipt. If you do choose to shop at any of those places on the 1st, be prepared to potentially encounter an understaffed store. If you must get groceries or order takeout that day, consider supporting a locally-owned business instead.
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