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Amazon Workers Plan Walkout After Staten Island Warehouse Reports COVID-19 Case

The striking workers want the New York City facility shuttered and sanitized before their return. "People are scared," one employee said. "We’re unsafe."

Dozens, if not hundreds, of Amazon employees at the e-commerce giant’s warehouse in New York City’s Staten Island plan to walk off the job on Monday — and have vowed to remain on strike until the company shuts down the facility and sanitizes it following the positive coronavirus diagnosis of at least one worker there last week. 

“We want the business closed down and sanitized before we return,” Chris Smalls, a manager assistant who is leading the walkout, told the New York Post. “People are scared … We’re unsafe. There are thousands of employees at risk.”

Smalls estimated that 50 to 200 people would take part in the strike, which is slated to begin at 12:30 p.m. Some 2,500 full-time employees work at the facility, the Post said. 

Amazon has faced scrutiny from employees, lawmakers and others over its handling of a spate of coronavirus cases at its facilities. Workers in at least 13 of Amazon’s U.S. warehouses have tested positive for the virus, known as COVID-19, since mid-March. Last week, the company confirmed that one worker at its Staten Island warehouse had contracted the disease. 

Smalls told CNN, however, that Amazon may be suppressing the true number of cases at the  facility. He said “as many as five to seven workers have been diagnosed” with COVID-19, the network reported.

He also said workers, including those at higher risk of catching the virus, who’ve chosen to self-quarantine have been forced to take unpaid time off. Smalls said the striking workers are demanding back pay for those employees.

In a statement to the Post, Amazon refuted some of Smalls’ allegations, calling them “simply unfounded.”

“Mr. Smalls is alleging many misleading things in his statements but we believe it’s important to note that he is, in fact, on a 14-day self-quarantine requested by Amazon to stay home with full pay,” the statement said. “He was placed in paid quarantine out of an abundance of caution because we notified him that he may have had close contact with someone at the building who was diagnosed.”

The statement also stressed that the company had “taken extreme measures to keep people safe” at its Staten Island warehouse, including “tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances.”

But Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said Amazon had not done enough to keep its employees safe. 

“All employers need to prioritize the health and safety of their workforce at this time. Unfortunately, Amazon appears to be prioritizing maximizing its enormous profits even over its employees’ safety — and that is unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

Thousands of Amazon employees and contractors have signed an online petition expressing concern “about the company’s lack of protective measures” in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds and communities everywhere prepare for the worst, Amazon workers have become crucial in getting people their food, water, and sanitation supplies,” the petition reads. “Together, we are pressing Amazon to take the lead in ensuring a safe workplace and fair leave policies to protect our workplaces, families and the public.”

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