Stories about working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses — and efforts by Amazon’s warehouse workers to change those conditions — stretch back nearly a decade. But like other systemic crises, Amazon workers’ fight for dignity and safer jobs has been greatly amplified by the coronavirus pandemic. With a rising count of warehouse workers confirmed infected with the coronavirus—at least 153 cases across 65 warehouses worldwide—and nine walkouts and shutdowns around the world, the urgency of this fight has become far more evident.
The activism of Amazon workers in recent weeks feels different than previous organizing efforts. Workers seem to be more coordinated and widespread. Previously reticent white-collar tech workers are starting to speak out more publicly about the treatment of Amazon workers.
And these actions are producing results: After efforts by part-time workers in Detroit and Sacramento to ensure paid time off accelerated because of the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon granted PTO to warehouse workers nationwide. When Amazonians United NYC, a logistics workers’ group, launched a petition for basic protections and resources, the company agreed within days to provide paid sick leave to all workers who test positive or are quarantined. The company also pledged $25 million for a hardship fund to support workers.
Following recent walkouts at several Amazon warehouses, the company announced that it will be handing out masks and taking workers’ temperature when they arrive at a warehouse. That’s a far cry from meeting all the demands that Amazon workers sought, but it’s a sign the company is aware that it needs to respond to the unfolding public health and public relations crisis.
Does this mark a fundamental shift in the dynamics between Amazon’s workers and company management?
To get a proper sense of the scale of Amazon worker actions right now, it’s important to take a global perspective. Amazon runs almost 1,100 warehouses around the world, with about 600 of those outside the United States. Some of these workers are more organized and active than…