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Workers called out Walmart for its hypocritical stance on the virus. “They closed the corporate office until July 2021 because of the virus meanwhile we’re expected to keep risking our lives to pay for their big salaries.”
Workers at big retailers in the United States like Amazon and Walmart are calling for stronger health and safety guidelines going into the holiday shopping season.
These workers, represented by labor activists, are demanding paid sick leave, hazard pay and better outbreak communication, among other things.
The campaign for stronger guidelines was launched by United for Respect, a non-profit focused on workers’ rights. The non-profit claims to represent more than 16 million people across the US.
“Working Black Friday this year comes with an obvious danger,” said Melissa Love, a five-year Walmart worker and member of United for Respect. “I do not believe Walmart should be trying to entice crowds into our stores on Friday and risk a super-spreader event.”
Walmart is offering its Black Friday discounts online over a several day window in order to avoid crowding at its stores.
Love also called out Walmart for its hypocritical stance on the virus. “They closed the corporate office until July 2021 because of the virus meanwhile we’re expected to keep risking our lives to pay for their big salaries.”
Like Walmart, Amazon has also seen employees demanding better guidelines and policies.
Amazon plant workers in Bessemer, Alabama, announced Wednesday that they have taken steps towards unionization due to poor health and safety guidelines, commencing a disruptive legal battle against the industry giant which is known for being opposed to unions.
“If Amazon workers in Alabama – a strong anti-union state – vote to form a union, it will be a shot heard around the world,” said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a historically powerful union supporter and big-business critic, in a tweet. “If they can negotiate higher wages and better working conditions in the South, it will benefit every worker in America. I strongly support their efforts.”
The group of workers have filed with the National Labor Relations Board, stating that they would like the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to represent them. A filing of this kind normally requires at least 30% of workers to sign forms declaring their desire to unionize.
Amazon has previously taken administrative action against employees in the US who were outspoken about joining a union. Three employees were fired in April for being critical of the company’s labor practices.
The company’s workforce in the US is largely not unionized, while its European workforce is largely represented by a number of unions.
In the United Kingdom, Amazon was accused in October of failing to adequately institute and enforce COVID guidelines for its Prime Day sales event. A UK union argued that Amazon had cut social distancing corners and that warehouses could be a “hive of infection” during the sales event after eight workers tested positive for coronavirus at the Coventry warehouse.
Amazon workers in several cities in Germany took part in a strike organized by the union ver.di during the sales event, arguing they deserve better pay, better working conditions and more respect.
Workers are specifically noting the increase in profits throughout the pandemic due to online sales of essentials. They point to the fact that companies have the ability and the resources to compensate and protect workers but are choosing not to.
Amazon has come back strong against the claims of poor pay and negligent practices, touting its minimum pay of US$15 an hour, with health and other benefits.
Amazon also said last month that it saw only 20,000 infections among its staff, arguing that this number was lower than expected given large infection rates.
“All in, we’ve introduced or changed over 150 processes to ensure the health and safety of our teams, including distributing over 100 million face masks, implementing temperature checks at sites around the world, mandating enhanced cleaning procedures at all of our sites, and introducing extensive social distancing measures to reduce the risk for our employees,” the company said in a statement on October 1.
More than 263,000 Americans have died as a result of the coronavirus and numbers in the US have soared going into the holiday season. Tuesday saw the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in a single day since May, with 2,100 reported.Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a former medical adviser for the White House, told CNN that Thanksgiving could be “potentially the mother of all super spreader events.”
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