June 3, 2023

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Coronavirus: Amazon and Instacart workers go on strike over safety

planned by 100 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York.

The Instacart employees, who shop for and deliver groceries, are demanding hazard pay and better safety equipment from the company.

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The strike is being called for by the company’s shoppers and a recently-formed non-profit group called Gig Workers Collective. Their list of demands includes making sure workers have access to hand sanitiser, disinfectant wipes, and sprays. They also want hazard pay and the inclusion of those with underlying health conditions in coronavirus pay.

Instacart is attempting to negotiate with the employees, and is currently offering a one-time bonus and a month’s pay to anyone diagnosed with coronavirus. It is also making it easier for customers to set their own tipping percentage — workers are demanding a 10 per cent minimum and an extra $5 per order.

The company is also making hand sanitiser available to employees, a move that has been welcomed, but the timing of which has been described as “abhorrent” given how long it has taken to roll out the policy.

Instacart has seen orders surge 150 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic. Last week, the company announced plans to bring on another 300,000 ‘full service shoppers’ over the next three months.

Meanwhile, the Amazon workers in Staten Island are walking out on Monday after a coworker at a facility in the New York City borough tested positive for the coronavirus.

Workers are demanding that Amazon shut down the warehouse for a deep clean and give workers paid time off during the process.

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that the company is supporting the diagnosed worker who is at home in quarantine and has told anyone that came into contact with them to stay home for two weeks on full pay.

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Employees are concerned that the virus will spread like “wildfire” through the 4,500 workers in the 855,000 square feet facility.

Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the warehouse, and the leader of the strike action, says: “Since the building won’t close by itself, we’re going to have to force [Amazon’s] hand. We will not return until the building gets sanitised.”

The spokesperson for Amazon calls many of Mr Smalls’ statements “misleading” and made a point of noting that he is one of the people in quarantine at home on full pay for two weeks.

Unrest has risen at many Amazon facilities over concern about the spread of coronavirus, with thirteen reporting cases. Only two have had to close to contain an outbreak. A warehouse in Queens, New York, temporarily closed after a worker tested positive, and a returns facility in Kentucky is closed until 1 April.

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