Several groups of workers considered essential during the coronavirus crisis say they are planning work stoppages as ways to get improved safety measures and paid leave.
For Tuesday, employees at Whole Foods have planned a “sick out” over demands for better conditions including double pay because of the hazards of working during the pandemic.
Already, as many as 150,000 workers for grocery delivery service Instacart planned a nationwide strike for Monday. Also on Monday, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, plan to walk out during lunch.
Concerns for Instacart and Whole Foods workers included hazard pay and sick pay for those who stay at home because they are at high risk or could pose high risk to others.
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“COVID-19 is a very real threat to the safety of our workforce and our customers. We cannot wait for politicians, institutions, or our own management to step in to protect us,” reads a petition being spread on social media about the Whole Foods #GlobalSickOut #March31st.
Workers in grocery stores and warehouses have seen their workplaces transformed – and delivery services inundated by demand – as tens of millions of Americans stay at home during the pandemic. Workers say physical distancing isn’t always followed and cleaning supplies are not always readily available.
Instacart workers still planned to strike Monday, after the company on Sunday said it would increase safety measures including procure hand sanitizer and adjust its app to help shoppers earn higher, more consistent tips.
The strike organizers said in a post on Medium that its demand for hazard pay went unaddressed and the hand sanitizer had been requested for “many, many weeks. … It’s abhorrent that it took this long for them to act, but on the bright side, it shows that a strike will work to change their behavior. … The strike is still on. Stay safe, everyone.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which represents 1.3 million workers in grocery, retail, and other industries, announced its support for the three actions. “Amazon, Instacart, and Whole Foods workers are sending a powerful message that it’s time to stop putting corporate profits ahead of the health and safety of the men and women who are critical to our food supply, and are on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak,” said UFCW International President Marc Perrone in a statement.
Two weeks ago, Amazon announced plans to hire 100,000 workers to assist with online deliveries during the pandemic. The company also said it is temporarily raising minimum pay to $17 an hour. Amazon is also seeking current warehouse workers who would want to work in its Amazon Fresh and Amazon Prime Now services, loading groceries at Whole Foods, Reuters has reported.
Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, has reportedly had coronavirus spread to at least 17 warehouses in the U.S., according to Reuters. The online retailer has 175 fulfillment centers globally and more than 150 fulfillment centers, sortation centers in the U.S., according to Amazon’s web site. Several workers tested positive at the Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island; workers are striking until the building is sanitized, Chris Smalls, a manager assistant who is coordinating the walkout, told USA TODAY.
Bezos praised the Amazon workforce in a statement March 21 and noted that “much of the essential work we do cannot be done from home. We’ve implemented a series of preventative health measures for employees and contractors at our sites around the world – everything from increasing the frequency and intensity of cleaning to adjusting our practices in fulfillment centers to ensure the recommended social distancing guidelines. We are meeting every day, working to identify additional ways to improve on these measures.”
Whole Foods has had several employees test positive for COVID-19 across the U.S., according to various news reports.
Amazon and Whole Foods had not yet returned request for comment.
The planned Whole Foods sick out comes just days after 15 attorneys general sought improved protection for workers including paid sick leave in a letter to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey.
“By limiting paid sick leave only to those who have been definitely diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have been placed into quarantine, Whole Foods and Amazon are placing their employees, customers, and the public at large in significant risk of exposure,” wrote the AGs from states including California, New York and Washington.
Those organizing the Whole Foods sick out said the grocery chain, which Amazon acquired in June 2017 for $13.7 billion, has temporarily relaxed its strict attendance policy, “which means that team members can participate in this act of protest without reprisal,” said the event’s promotional flier.
Demands by the Whole Foods sick out organizers:
- Guaranteed paid leave for all workers who isolate or self-quarantine instead of coming to work
- Reinstatement of health care coverage for part-time and seasonal workers.
- Increased FSA funds to cover coronavirus testing and treatment for all team members including part-time and seasonal.
- Guaranteed hazard pay in the form of double pay during our scheduled hours.
- Implementation of new policies that can facilitate social distancing between workers and customers.
- Commitment to ensuring that all locations have adequate sanitation equipment and procedures in place.
- Immediate shutdown of any location where a worker tests positive for COVID-19. In such an event, all workers should continue to receive full pay unit the store can safely reopen.
Contributing: Dalvin Brown, Charisse Jones,