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USA: Amazon warehouse workers allege they were fired in retaliation for protesting insufficient protection for workers from COVID-19; incl. company comments

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Article
20 May 2020

USA: Ex-employee sues Amazon for alleged wrongful termination related to protesting lack of coronavirus safety measures

Author: Monica Nickelsburg, Geek Wire

"Ex-Amazon employee sues for wrongful termination, claims coronavirus whistleblowing led to firing," 5 May 2020

A former Amazon employee is suing the company, claiming she was wrongfully terminated after taking time off to recover from COVID-19-like symptoms and sounding the alarm about safety concerns inside the warehouse where she worked.

It appears to be the first lawsuit brought by an Amazon employee over the company’s response to the coronavirus crisis, a subject of much criticism and activism over the past few weeks.

Enesha Yurchak filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Circuit Court of the State of Oregon. She worked as an on-site emergency medical technician at a warehouse in Salem, Ore., according to the complaint. It names Amazon and her former supervisors as defendants and seeks damages.

Yurchak took time off in early March when she began experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, according to the complaint. Upon her return in mid-April, Yurchak says she witnessed violations of safety policies designed to stem the spread of the virus. She and several coworkers were asked, at that time, to wash other employees’ personal protective equipment...

The company did not respond to GeekWire’s request to comment on the lawsuit. News of the suit was reported earlier today by The Oregonian.

“Amazon acted with malice, showed a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm, and acted with a conscious indifference to the health, safety and welfare of others,” the complaint says.

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Article
19 May 2020

Tracking tool allows Amazon workers to report Covid-19 cases

Author: Kari Paul, The Guardian (UK)

6 May 2020

A crowd-sourced tracking tool launched on Wednesday will allow Amazon workers to report and monitor the growing number of coronavirus cases in their facilities, as the company refuses to publicly release comprehensive figures.

United for Respect, a worker advocacy group, has released the new system, which will rely on reports from employees to keep a more accurate count of how many workers have been diagnosed with Covid-19.

The tool comes as Amazon confirmed the death of a worker in one of its New York warehouses from coronavirus this week and employees demand paid sick leave and protest lack of protection. 

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Article
18 May 2020

Amazon faces calls for increased transparency regarding worker infections & deaths due to COVID-19; incl. company comment

Author: Catherine Thorbecke, ABC News

"Family of Amazon employee who died of COVID-19: 'We want answers,'" 15 May 2020

As Amazon faces increased calls for transparency over how many employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the company confirmed... that another warehouse worker in New York has died amid the pandemic... "We just want to get his story out there because we don't think that Amazon is doing enough to protect their workers"... [said niece of worker who died].

... [A] coalition of 13 attorneys general... sent a letter to Amazon pressing for stronger measures to protect the health and safety of workers amid the pandemic, and requesting information on how many workers have been infected and how many have died... In an interview that aired Sunday with CBS, Amazon's head of operations, Dave Clark [said]... "The actual ... total number of cases isn't particularly useful because it's relative to the size of the building and then the overall community infection rate..." [Another Amazon spokesperson Rachael] Lighty... [said] that ensuring the health and safety of employees is a "top concern" for Amazon, adding that they "expect to invest approximately $4 billion from April to June on COVID-related initiatives to get products to customers and keep employees safe."

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Article
12 May 2020

USA: Amazon says it's spending $4 billion this quarter on COVID-19 incl. worker protections like testing, right before workers plan to strike

Author: Julie Bort, Business Insider (USA)

USA: Amazon says it's spending $4 billion or more this quarter on COVID-19 including worker protections like testing, right before workers plan to strike, 30 April 2020

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told investors to 'take a seat' as he told them that he's dedicating the entire current quarter's $4 billion profit and then some to COVID-19 related expenses.

He said that much of those expenses relate to how the company has been protecting warehouse workers.

COVID-19-related worker protection expenses include the creation of its own COVID-19 test, which Amazon's CFO says will cost $1 billion this year.

It's worth pointing out that the $4 billion in expenses isn't solely dedicated to worker safety. It includes lots of other items such as hiring 175,000 new warehouse workers and some charitable donations to the community.

Meanwhile, some unhappy front line workers across Amazon, Whole Foods as well as Walmart, FedEx, Target and Instacart, are planning to strike on [May 1] over working conditions.

[requires Business Insider Prime account]

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Article
8 May 2020

USA: Amazon may have violated labor laws by firing worker involved in protest, New York attorney general says; incl. company response

Author: Tyler Sonnemaker, Business Insider (USA)

28 April 2020

Amazon may have violated New York's whistleblower law by firing a worker involved in a protest over workplace safety, the state's attorney general said in a letter to the company, NPR reported Monday.

The AG's letter said its initial findings suggested Amazon fired the worker to "silence his complaints and send a threatening message to other employees that they should also keep quiet," according to NPR.

The letter, which the attorney general's office confirmed to Business Insider, also said Amazon's safety measures implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic are "so inadequate" that they may violate federal and state workplace safety rules, too.

Amazon told Business Insider in a statement that it didn't fire the worker.

Amazon has come under fire from employees, lawmakers, and labor activists in recent weeks over working conditions at its warehouses and firing of workers who have spoken out about the issue.

[includes company response]

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Article
8 May 2020

USA: Amazon VP resigns after company fires workers who criticized warehouse conditions

Author: Isobel Asher Hamilton, Business Insider (USA)

The Amazon VP who quit and called the company 'chickens---' says Google, Comcast, and Huawei got in touch, 5 May 2020 

The Amazon vice president who quit the company and posted a searing attack on how it targeted whistleblowers says he has been approached by numerous other tech companies already.

Tim Bray's blog post on Monday explaining his resignation was shared widely. Bray, who held the title of distinguished engineer, wrote that he left the company after it fired workers who openly criticized its warehouse conditions during the coronavirus pandemic, a move he called "chickenshit." (He later retracted the insult, calling it "mean-spirited.")

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Article
8 May 2020

USA: Amazon workers say they have to jam onto buses to get to the company's Staten Island warehouse

Author: Clifford Michael, The City, Business Insider (USA)

30 April 2020 

Employees at Amazon's sprawling Staten Island warehouse say they're forced to pack onto city buses to get to work — and are calling on the online retail giant to provide social-distance-friendly shuttles... 

"It's crowded. We're like sardines in a can," said Amazon employee Phillip Ruiz, 35, who is burning through his paid time off because he's afraid of bringing coronavirus home to immunocompromised loved ones. 

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Article
5 May 2020

Intl. coalition of Amazon employees forms to demand improved pay, safety protections, reinstatement of dismissed workers & end to casual employment

Author: Hamilton Nolan, In These Times

"Amazon Labor Activism Goes International as European and U.S. Workers Combine Forces", 4 May 2020

A new coalition of Amazon employee activists from Spain, France, German, Poland and America has announced itself with a list of demands for improved pay and safety...

The new group, called Amazon Workers International (AWI)... [sent a] letter... to CEO Jeff Bezos... Among the demands... making permanent the wage increases and extra break time instituted in response to the coronavirus crisis; granting two weeks of paid sick leave, and extending the unlimited unpaid sick leave program that the company just ended in the U.S.; working in good faith with unions; reinstating the workers who have been fired for their activism; and ending “all forms of casual and temporary employment,” which the group calls an abuse of corporate power...

[An Amazon] spokesman cited recent pay increases, along with increased cleaning, social distancing, masks and other safety measures the company has introduced, and said, "We encourage anyone interested in the facts to compare our overall pay and benefits, as well as our speed in managing this crisis, to other retailers and major employers across the country.”...

European workers involved in AWI... say that international collaboration is a necessity when trying to change an international behemoth like Amazon. “What we learned in our many years of struggle is, that if you want to organize at Amazon, you will have to think long term, build a broad base of workers who stand behind the cause and are willing to take action... They say that they eventually hope to expand AWI and bring in Amazon workers in Asia and in Latin America...

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Article
4 May 2020

Citing 'vein of toxicity' and firing of whistleblowers, Amazon VP resigns in disgust

Author: Julia Conley, Common Dreams (USA)

Amazon vice president Tim Bray won praise from labor rights advocates on Monday after resigning from the company over its treatment of whistleblowers during the Covid-19 pandemic, publishing a "scathing" letter on his personal blog explaining the decision.

After more than five years as a vice president at the company, Bray wrote that he was quitting "in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19."

In the letter, Bray defended Amazon workers including Staten Island warehouse employee Chris Smalls and Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) organizers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, all of whom were fired after leading petitions and protests over unsafe conditions in the retailer's warehouses as the pandemic continues to spread across the United States.

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Article
28 April 2020

Amazon reportedly tried to shut down virtual discussion about working conditions by deleting calendar invites; includes company comments

Author: Tyler Sonnemaker, Business Insider (USA)

Amazon reportedly tried to shut down a virtual event for workers to speak out about the company's coronavirus response by deleting employees' calendar invites, 20 April 2020

Amazon attempted to shut down a virtual event where workers spoke out about working conditions at the company's warehouses by deleting employees' calendar invites, organizers told The Seattle Times.

Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two of the event's organizers who were fired by Amazon last week after publicly criticizing its coronavirus response, told The Seattle Times that the company deleted the invites from its internal calendar, though several hundred employees had already seen and accepted it...

Amazon refused to comment on claims by Cunningham and Costa that it deleted calendar invites, but said in a statement to Business Insider: "We support every employee's right to criticize their employer's working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies. We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies."

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