Working in Amazon During Coronavirus–Observations

Image of Black Amazon Worker delivering packages

Wishing everyone safety and good health during this time. 

Before I even begin, let me just say that it is truly a shame that I have to write under a false name in an effort to protect myself from speaking out against some of the heinous things that happen in my workplace. Even under these circumstances, I refuse to be silent and I refuse to not share my truth as an employee at Amazon. I am cognizant of my duty and my commitment to continue to speak the truth regardless of who wishes to hear it or not, and I will not compromise this commitment by any means! I will not be intimidated by the termination of that organizer in Staten Island nor the termination of the brave worker who spoke out about the conditions in their warehouse in Sparrow’s Point, Maryland. I am cognizant of the fact that both instances were the slave master beheading the rebellious slave in front of the others, in an evil effort to say, “this can happen to you too.” We must not buckle or waver, or else we’ll be fettered forever. As of noon today, April 1st, Amazon workers in Romulus, Michigan (the third consecutive warehouse thus far) walked off the job due to an unsafe work environment. Solidarity! 

On Sunday, February 16, I began my training at the UMD1 Facility at Amazon Warehouse. After repeated attempts at job searches, interviews (both over the phone and in-person), and what seemed like promising feedback, I kept getting rejected. I decided to quit my job at Insomnia Cookies late last year after about a year and a half of incessant racist and classist attacks on both me and my co-workers. My location was in the Federal Hill community of Baltimore, and for those who do not live in Baltimore City, Federal Hill is known for being white, privileged, rowdy and racist. Hell, there were JUST Ku Klux Klan flyers circulating around that neighborhood for the third time last year! As a Black, working-class and conscious individual who has no problems incorporating my political values with my work, I knew that I had to get the Hell out of there. I work part-time at an independent bookstore and while I enjoy providing books and advancing the cause of literacy in my city, it just doesn’t pay all of the bills. In addition to that, we aren’t even open in the first place. 

It is very telling how one of Amazon’s instinctual 1 reactions when they heard that businesses were closing due to the Coronavirus, was to recruit more people. Amazon decided to put out a PSA saying “we’re hiring!” BEFORE they had even started issuing Lysol, wipes and hand sanitizer. Before the proper sanitation measures were even set in place, Amazon was talking about bringing in 100,000 people. They have been putting the labor of the workers over the safety and wellbeing of said workers ever since this pandemic started (and of course, even before it.) Amazon is offering to pay $2 more to workers, bringing our pay per hour to $17. This price is nowhere close to what we ought to be getting paid, given the work and the risk. However, to poor and working-class people who need the money, it sounds like a dream come true. In this same exact breath, Jeff Bezo’s (lying ass) says that if you are sick or not feeling well, you can stay home and not face any penalty. This is manipulation and mind games at it’s goddamn finest! Now, people who are sick are less likely to stay home and rest, because they don’t want to pass up the pay increase. As of this blog post, Amazon is willing to pay double overtime, yes, DOUBLE overtime once you hit 40 hours. Workers who are sick and should be able to stay home are literally working ill, just for the possibility of earning $34 an hour. Workers are willing to put in 50 even 60 hours a goddamn week just to see these numbers! In my warehouse, we have competitive hours. We are seeing work rates that reflect what it would look like during the holiday seasons. And even on that note, workers were getting paid more money during the holiday season (grant it, 40 cents more) than what we are getting paid to work during a worldwide pandemic! 

But hey, they added an extra five minutes to our 15-minute breaks from now until further notice. Thanks? 

We do not have a set schedule, as we are part-time. Shifts are dropped on Thursday evening, and you have to scramble Hunger Games-style to pick the shifts that you want before they are all snatched up. Workers are working hours that they’d prefer not to work because they have no other option lest they fall short of the hours needed to make what they need to make to feed their families. Shame on Amazon for what they are doing right now. 

Amazon has been dragging its feet with implementing all safety procedures and precautions. It has been merely a couple of days since the “urge” of workers to use hand sanitizers, Lysol and wipes in the warehouse. Remember, we’ve been encouraged to quarantine for three, almost four weeks! Just yesterday, when I walked into my 10-hour shift at 3 AM, I noticed that there were only two cans of Lysol. One of the cans was completely empty and the other had been brought to the warehouse from a co-worker who brought his from home. When he went home, he was nice enough to let us keep the can. We struggled all shift to keep track of where that one can was, because it was in such high demand, and it needed to be passed around an entire warehouse of workers so that we could have “some” sort of sanitation. There are “keep your social distance” markers on the ground, indicating what six feet should look like, however, maintaining social distance is virtually non-existent in a warehouse, much less a warehouse that relies so much on close proximity cohesion. Amazon is telling the media that they are following protocol because they are facing enough sh*t as it is. They are informing the media that all measures are properly in place. How in the Hell are all measures in place when you have eight warehouses testing positive for this virus?! 

Amazon (with their deceptive asses) said that workers could drop shifts and not face penalties throughout the duration of the pandemic. I dropped about two shifts last week in an effort to take care of myself and recover from a rather brutal work week the week before. I woke up to an email from Amazon first thing in the morning, saying that I had missed three consecutive workdays and that if I was sick, I should state this, otherwise I’d be terminated. I had to re-iterate a policy that they themselves came up with, in order to plead my case and fight for my job, all the while being at home resting under quarantine. I received an email a few hours later saying that my occurrences had been wiped out and that I was in good standing. Amazon does not give part-time workers benefits such as sick leave, because (and this was said aloud from a manager), “you get to cancel your shifts within 24 hours before the shift and not be penalized for it.” 

Huh? 

Because let’s face it, the ONLY time you ever get sick is exactly 24 hours or less before your shift, right? This is such an asinine excuse as to why you aren’t giving hard-working workers the benefits that they deserve. And what difference does it make if I’m part-time or not, when I’m part-time putting in 40+ hours like full-timers? 

Amazon made sure to print out those letters, stating that we are “essential to public health” and hand them to all of the workers so that we don’t come across any issues with law enforcement. We are walking around with a slip of paper in our back pocket, a permission slip — permission to work in an unsafe work environment where money rules and the rich are at home with their families quarantining. 

The consensus at my location is that although no cases have been reported (yet), we know in our gut that it is there. May we muster the strength of those who came before us and organize ourselves in whatever capacity that we can so that we can show Jeff Bezos all other corporate goons what we’ve been trying to say all along: The power has ALWAYS belonged to the workers! 

A luta continua…

-Black radical Amazon worker, Broening Highway.