The global pandemic has tested the bounds of businesses across the world and transformed the way many of us live our lives. For those among us who are unable to leave our homes at all as COVID-19 virus rages, online retail and food services have been a kind of lifeline.
But as contact-free delivery becomes the norm, it can be easy to forgot all the people working to provide those services at risk to their health. And more often than not, employees are working for low wages or tips.
A number of protests have been organized at companies like Amazon and Instagram in the intervening weeks and months, but a wide-scale, cross-company event hasn’t really surfaced. That could change on May 1, as employees mark the longstanding tradition of International Workers' Day with a May Day general strike.
Material for the event has been circulating online, rebadged “Essential Workers’ Day,” as a nod to the exemptions to stay at home orders for retail and food delivery, among others. The event is framed as a combination strike and boycott, targeted at Amazon/Whole Foods, Instacart and Target/Shipt (as well as Walmart and FedEx, according to various sources).
Specific demands differ from employer to employer, but workers have broadly asked for essential health protections, sick leave and hazard pay as the pandemic has continued to wear on and profits have spiked for many providers.
Vice spoke to Christian Smalls, one of the organizers, the Staten Island Amazon employee who was fired after organizing a walkout at one of the company’s fulfillment centers. “We formed an alliance between a bunch of different companies because we all have one common goal which is to save the lives of workers and communities,” he told the site. “Right now isn’t the time to open up the economy. Amazon is a breeding ground [for COVID] which is spreading right now through multiple facilities.”
Amazon workers have been particularly vocal about the retail giant’s response to the pandemic. In addition to Smalls, two other employees who were publicly critical of the company were fired by Amazon — though the company denied the direct link. Instacart employees have also organized boycotts and strikes, including one in late March.
“We remain singularly focused on the health and safety of the Instacart community. Our team has been diligently working to offer new policies, guidelines, product features, resources, increased bonuses, and personal protective equipment to ensure the health and safety of shoppers during this critical time,” the company said in a statement. “We welcome all feedback from shoppers and we will continue to enhance their experience to ensure this important community is supported.”
Other companies have previously issued similar statements regarding employment during the crisis. We’ve reached out to them for additional comment on the planned protests.
Update: An Amazon spokesperson offered TechCrunch the following statement,
While we respect people’s right to express themselves, we object to the irresponsible actions of labor groups in spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon during this unprecedented health and economic crisis. The statements made are not supported by facts or representative of the majority of the 500,000 Amazon operations employees in the U.S. who are showing up to work to support their communities. What’s true is that masks, temperature checks, hand sanitizer, increased time off, increased pay, and more are standard across our Amazon and Whole Food Market networks already. Our employees are doing incredible work for their communities every day, and we have invested heavily in their health and safety through increased safety measures and the procurement of millions of safety supplies and have invested nearly $700 million in increased pay. Working globally with our teams and third parties we have gone to extreme measures to understand and address this pandemic with more than 150 process changes to-date. We spend every day focused on what else Amazon can do to keep our people and communities safe and healthy.