While Amazon founder Jeff Bezos netted an extra $24 billion after news of the coronavirus pandemic spread, his workers have been fighting for their lives and livelihood. Forbes Magazine reported that the company saw its first employee, an operations manager at a facility in Hawthorne, California, die from COVID-19 on March 31, and employees in at least 74 of the company’s warehouses tested positive for the virus, according to The Washington Post.
“We are saddened by the passing of a member of our management team in Hawthorne, California,” Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish said in a media statement Forbes obtained. “His family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting his fellow colleagues.” That support didn’t, however, extend to two employees the company fired after they spoke out about their opposition to Amazon's climate practices and workplace conditions during the pandemic.
Emily Cunningham, one of the fired employees, said she was let go Friday. “Because of how effective we’ve been in getting Amazon to take leadership in the climate crisis, they’ve wanted me gone for a while,” Cunningham told The Washington Post. She tweeted March 27: “I'm matching donations up to $500 to support my Amazon warehouse worker colleagues. ‘The lack of safe and sanitary working condition’ puts them and the public at risk. It's bad ya'll [sic]...” Cunningham included in her tweet the link to a fundraising effort to help Amazon warehouse workers exposed to the novel coronavirus in New York City.
The campaign had raised more than $21,600 of a $30,000 goal by Wednesday afternoon. "When a worker at Amazon’s DBK1 Delivery Station in Queens, NY, tested positive for COVID-19, management didn’t report the case to workers or follow the CDC’s recommendation to shut down the facility, and they’ve illegally refused to pay workers who now need to quarantine," an organizer of the campaign wrote on the website. "This isn’t safe for workers—or the broader public who depends on Amazon for essential supplies."
RELATED: Workers in nine Amazon warehouses test positive for coronavirus
But despite what workers are going through, Bezos is making out just fine, with his net worth increasing to $138 billion Tuesday on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and the figure fluctuates daily. Bezos, however, was already the richest person alive before the pandemic with his 11% stake in the online shopping behemoth, BBC reported. The surge in online spending triggered when more than half the country was ordered to stay home further cemented his spot at the top. “Amazon became a utility in this crisis—defensive, reliable, indispensable,” Josh Brown, CEO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, tweeted Tuesday.
Small business owners, worried their companies may not survive an extended shutdown, asked shoppers to diversify as much as they can. Sally Bergesen, founder and chief executive of the athletic wear business Oiselle, told The New York Times: “Definitely patronize the business that you want to see survive in the future.” Columnist Shira Ovide wrote in the same article: ”The basic idea is to think. Think about whether the company you’re buying from needs the business, and how many people involved in the purchase might be in harm’s way. Think about whether what you’re buying can wait for more normal times. And keep thinking about our personal responsibility as shoppers when this crisis subsides.”