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Coronavirus workplace conditions spur protests at Whole Foods, Amazon

Some employees at Whole Foods Market nationwide executed a work stoppage Tuesday, while a former employee at parent company Amazon considered legal action after his dismissal for participation in a labor walkout Monday.

Expect escalating tensions between employers and workers as workplaces deemed essential during the coronavirus crisis weigh issues of safety with pressures to meet the demands of a sheltering-in-place populace.

Amazon, which acquired the supermarket chain in June 2017 for $13.7 billion, is seeking to hire thousands of workers for both businesses. But workers for the supermarket chain want improved workplace safety and benefits including hazard pay and sick pay for employees who may be sick but haven’t been tested for the coronavirus.

Whole Foods workers had originally scheduled May 1, International Workers’ Day, as the date to stage a sickout, in which they call in to say the won’t come to work that day. But concerns about contracting and spreading the COVID-19 virus between co-workers and customers led them to move up the daylong strike.

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“Many cities and states have effectively shut down, making us literal emergency workers,” the group said in a statement. “The level of risk combined with the inflated profits from the past few weeks mean that us grocery store workers need to be fairly compensated, as well as given an option to self-quarantine without fear of being evicted.”

The protest by some Whole Foods employees who “called out” to not report to work Tuesday had “no operational impact” and service continued at “all of our stores without interruption,” the company said in a statement to USA TODAY.

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