Activism

Workers From Amazon, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target & More Are Striking On May 1

Essential workers from some of the largest companies in the country will call in sick or walk out on Friday to protest the lack of protection and benefits they’ve been offered amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Getty Images / Grocery store workers and others staged a protest rally outside the Whole Foods Market on April 7

Essential workers at some of the largest companies in the country are planning to strike on Friday to demand better protection and benefits amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The outbreak has forced small businesses in states around the U.S. to close in an effort to curb the virus’ spread — but warehouse, delivery, fast food, grocery store, and other workers have been deemed essential and have continued to work while the rest of the country has stayed home.

Workers from Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Walmart, Target, and FedEx are expected to walk out of work on May 1, which is International Workers’ Day. According to an April 28 report by The Intercept, citing a press release by strike organizers, workers will call out sick or walk off the job during their lunch break. They are also making a list of demands, which include "compensation for all unpaid time off used since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis in March; hazard pay or paid sick leave to be provided for the duration of the pandemic; protective equipment and all cleaning supplies to be provided at all times by the company; and a demand for full corporate transparency on the number of cases in facilities."

Christian Smalls, who was fired by Amazon following a strike at a company warehouse in Staten Island, is reportedly one of the lead organizers of the strike. Smalls was one of several Amazon employees who lost their jobs after raising health concerns.

A group of Trader Joe's workers behind ongoing unionization efforts also announced they would be striking on May 1.

"If Trader Joe’s workers have organized their locations (brought on multiple people to join in) we encourage you to join the general strike," the group wrote. "If your location isn’t organized and a strike effort would put you at risk, spend this time empowering your coworkers."

Though the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed into law March 18, mandates federally-funded paid sick leave for workers who show COVID-19 symptoms, companies with over 500 employees are exempt from providing the benefit. Some big businesses including Whole Foods won’t provide paid sick leave unless employees receive a formal diagnosis or are ordered by a doctor to quarantine.

Over the past several weeks, many workers have organized strikes or "sick-ins" to protest working conditions. 

Hundreds of workers at more than 30 restaurants across the country staged a walkout in early April to demand that upper management do more to keep them safe. 

Amazon and Instacart workers have also previously gone on strike to demand better protections during the coronavirus outbreak — including Smalls, who led the March 30 strike before his firing.

In a statement regarding Small's firing, Amazon said, "We did not terminate Mr. Smalls’ employment for organizing a 15-person protest. We terminated his employment for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment. Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines. He was also found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14-days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world. Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite further putting the teams at risk."

In regards to the May 1 walkouts, Amazon stated, "The fact is that today the overwhelming majority of our more than 840,000 employees around the world are at work as usual continuing to support getting people in their communities the items they need during these challenging times.  While there is tremendous media coverage of today’s protests we see no measurable impact on operations.  Health and safety is our top priority and we expect to spend more than $800 million in the first half of the year on COVID-19 safety measures."

"Our focus remains on protecting associates in our operations network with extensive measures including distributing face masks, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, implementing temperature checks, operating with strict social distancing protocols, and recognizing their contributions with additional pay and leading benefits," Amazon continued. "We encourage anyone interested in the facts to compare our overall pay and benefits, as well as our speed in managing this crisis, to other retailers and major employers across the country."