People staying home to avoid coronavirus exposure are ordering lots of things online. That requires lots of warehouse and delivery workers—some of whom have now contracted coronavirus. Workers in nine Amazon warehouses have tested positive for the disease.
Amazon workers have been complaining that the company’s push to ship orders quickly involves carelessness about their health, with the pressure to hit a high rate of orders picked and packed leaving inadequate time to wash their hands, and management holding meetings that require workers to stand close together. Amazon says it is changing its procedures to, for instance, eliminate those meetings as well as increasing cleaning of frequently touched surfaces in warehouses. But it’s also trying to hire 100,000 more workers to cope with the flood of orders.
Workers have tested positive in two New York City warehouses as well as ones in Kentucky, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan, California, and Connecticut. Amazon warehouse workers in Spain and Italy had previously tested positive. The company has raised warehouse wages by $2 per hour and is expanding paid time off, but it’s clear that workers continue to face pressure to come in to work and just deal with unsafe conditions if they want to keep their jobs. (For a great look at what it’s like to work in an Amazon warehouse under normal circumstances, check out Emily Guendelsberger’s On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane.)
Amazon and other online retailers are among the businesses that haven’t been shut down by COVID-19. But they’re going to need to protect their workers better if they’re going to keep functioning.