Lawmakers says Amazon is failing to protect the health of its workers

Georgina Torbet

U.S. lawmakers lead by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ilhan Omar have called on Amazon to do more to protects its workers from coronavirus, officially called COVID-19.

Last week, Sanders was one of four U.S. Senators who wrote an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos calling on him to do more to protect the company’s workers. At the time, the Senators recommended Amazon workers be given benefits like guaranteed sick pay, the company paying for tests for coronavirus infection, and hazard pay for those who work during this dangerous time.

Since then, Amazon announced that it would raise its overtime pay for warehouse workers from 1.5 times pay to 2 times pay, and Bezos wrote a company blog post saying he was “grateful” to workers. Amazon has said it will give up to two weeks of paid sick leave to warehouse workers who have a confirmed diagnosis of coronavirus. But other workers will not get sick pay, which risks infections spreading among employees who are forced to come to work when they are ill.

Sanders and Omar have written another open letter, saying that Amazon’s recent changes have not gone far enough. “In a recent message to your employees, you recognized the critical work they are doing,” the letter read in part. “You encouraged your employees to take care of themselves, yet you failed to recognize the vital role that Amazon plays in guaranteeing their safety.” The letter also raised a long history of criticism for Amazon’s treatment of its workers: “Even prior to the dire global health crisis, these facilities have a proven record of high health and safety standard violations, and Amazon has failed to provide any substantive response or solutions to those violations.”

Specifically, the letter calls for Amazon to share how it plans to protect its workers from the coronavirus and to share what safety measures it has put in place to respect social distancing. It also asks Amazon to share what financial and educational support is available for workers in Queens, where a warehouse has been shut down due to an outbreak. Finally, it also asks Amazon about its scheduled breaks policy and whether workers are being given enough time to perform hygiene tasks like going to a restroom to wash their hands without being penalized.

Recognizing the importance of Amazon as a supplier of essential goods in this time, the letter concludes: “No employee, especially those who work for one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, should be forced to work in unsafe conditions.”