Amazon is using the Coronavirus pandemic to grow at the expense of its employees
Amazon workers feel both necessary and disposable because they don’t feel protected by the company.
Amazon is positioning itself as an essential service during the coronavirus pandemic, a move that benefits the company and puts its workers and warehouse drivers at risk.
As the virus spreads and borders are closed, Amazon workers in the United States and other parts of the world are forced to take on a new role: delivering products to quarantined countries. But many fear that safety precautions, benefits, and protections have not changed enough to reflect this new reality and that if their warehouses remain active while all other services are closed, many will fall ill.
Amazon is in a unique position to thrive in the crisis. It has spent more than two decades building a logistics network –possibly the largest in the world– capable of delivering almost anything to anyone in the world. With most Americans in quarantine, the company has found a golden opportunity.
Statistics provided by one of Amazon's partners, JungleScout, show that the search volume has increased, first for face masks and hand sanitizer, then for rice, soup, webcams, monitors... anything the American market believes it may need while in confinement.
On Tuesday, March 17, Amazon announced that it was hiring 100,000 new workers and increasing wages by $2 an hour. However, given the lethality of the virus spreading and its lethality in China or Italy, it is not clear if that will be enough to entice people to venture into a crowded warehouse during a pandemic.
These concerns will only become more acute as the pandemic worsens. A few days ago, it was reported that a worker at an Amazon distribution centre in New York tested positive for the virus. However, workers on the next shift were not notified and were expected to come in, but refused when they heard about the case, thus closing the facility.
Amazon claims that it notified the workers and that they were not expected to come in for the next shift, so the facility has been temporarily closed for a thorough clean-up. In Italy and Spain, Amazon has refused to close the facility where workers have been infected, prompting protests on social networks. However, in Italy and France they currently only deliver essential products.
Safety measures have also been uneven for delivery drivers. These are drivers who work mostly for outside companies, they have contracts with Amazon.
Amazon's policies argue a lack of legal responsibility for the human cost of its services, yet it maintains strict control over how delivery drivers do their jobs.
Many media outlets have reported how workers agree that the pandemic has made their jobs more essential, although several noted that they are still shipping many boxes of phones, home decorations, and other low-priority products, feeling like disposables. The virus has also made their jobs more dangerous if operations are to continue as everything closes down.
This situation has prompted several workers in New York to write a petition to Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, for insurance and sick leave in the wake of the disaster.
After two U.S. senators wrote a letter to Bezos, he published a memo explaining briefly that there are not many options for his workers. "There is no instruction manual on how to feel at a time like this, and I know this causes stress for everyone,” he said.