As the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe, an otherwise marginalized class of workers is suddenly in the spotlight. Often undervalued and poorly paid, they are grocery store clerks, sanitation workers, medical professionals, and other employees who can’t stay home—even when the nation is on lockdown. In the United States, hundreds of thousandsof these so-called essential workers are employed by or contract for Amazon, whose delivery network has emerged as a vital service for millions of Americans stuck inside their homes.
Wired spoke with nine people working for Amazon during the Covid-19 crisis over the past two weeks and is publishing their accounts of being on the job, in their own words. They work in Amazon fulfillment centers, deliver packages and groceries, and stock food in Amazon cafeterias. Some are employed by Amazon directly, while others are contractors. Each of them say they are terrified for their health and that of their families, and many believe Amazon isn’t doing enough to ensure their safety. While the company has often framed its frontline workers as heroes, the people WIRED spoke with say they didn’t sign up for this level of risk.
Covid-19 has now spread to at least 50 Amazon facilities in the US, out of a total of more than 500, according to The New York Times. The outbreaks have led to employee protests in Detroit, New York City, and Chicago, where workers said Amazon was slow to notify them about infections and failed to conduct adequate cleaning. At Amazon-owned Whole Foods, staff staged a nationwide demonstration citing similar safety concerns and calling for free coronavirus testing for all employees. And more than 5,000 Amazon workers have signed a petition asking for additional benefits given the health crisis, including hazard pay and for the company to shut down any facility where a worker tests positive so it can be properly cleaned.
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