Workers across the pandemic’s front lines plan to strike together this Friday, May 1, on International Workers’ Day, to protest what they say are unsafe conditions and a lack of protection from their employers.
Whole Foods, Amazon, Target, and Instacart workers are striking on May 1st pic.twitter.com/nwnMhxxffy
— Michael Sainato (@msainat1) April 22, 2020
The May Day General Strike will unite employees at Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Target, Shipt, FedEx, and Walmart in a single, sprawling effort. According to a press release cited by The Intercept, workers—mostly non-unionized, given their employers’ notorious union-busting reputations—will call in sick or walk off the job during their lunch break, picketing outside their warehouses and storefronts. At some sites, rank-and-file union members will stand alongside them.
While Trader Joe’s is not named in press materials, a coalition of workers for the chain recently tweeted support for the strike, encouraging workers not “at risk” to join in and imploring customers, “Do not shop at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Amazon, or Target and do not use Instacart on May 1st.”
Among the strikers’ demands are compensation for all unpaid time off used since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March; hazard pay or sick leave pay to be provided for the duration of the pandemic; personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to be provided at all times by the company; and full corporate transparency on the number of cases in facilities.
Much of the ire is directed at Amazon, which has come under fire for allegedly failing to notify workers of confirmed cases of coronavirus or to thoroughly sanitize infected facilities. Last month, Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York staged a protest that was followed by the dismissal of one of its organizers, Christian Smalls—a leader of this Friday’s strike. (Amazon denies Smalls’ dismissal was because of the protest and insists he was terminated for “putting the health and safety of others at risk.”)
Tomorrow’s activism comes after a string of protests held by workers at Amazon, Instacart, Shipt, and Whole Foods over the last two months, whose employers have seen unprecedented profits as staffers on the ground stock shelves and run deliveries. The demonstrations reflect a burgeoning unrest among the country’s essential workers, who are entering their third month of duty on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. And tensions will likely rise as the federal lockdown lifts, states begin to reopen, and thousands of Americans return to their jobs.
Fast Company reached out to the employers targeted by the strike, and here’s how they’ve responded so far:
“While we respect people’s right to express themselves, we object to the irresponsible actions of labor groups in spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon during this unprecedented health and economic crisis. . . . What’s true is that masks, temperature checks, hand sanitizer, increased time off, increased pay, and more are standard across our Amazon and Whole Food Market networks already. Our [500,000] employees are doing incredible work for their communities every day, and we have invested heavily in their health and safety through increased safety measures and the procurement of millions of safety supplies and have invested nearly $700 million in increased pay. Working globally with our teams and third parties we have gone to extreme measures to understand and address this pandemic with more than 150 process changes to-date.”
“Statements made by this group misrepresent the full extent of Whole Foods Market’s actions in response to this crisis and do not represent the collective voice of our more than 95,000 Team Members. Along with increased pay and benefits for Team Members in our stores and facilities, we have implemented enhanced cleaning protocols, social distancing and crowd control measures, we require temperature screenings and face masks for in-store workers, and in addition to providing face masks, we offer gloves and personal face shields for added protection. We are auditing all of these practices on a daily basis to help protect the health and safety of our Team Members, which remains our highest priority.”
“We remain singularly focused on the health and safety of the Instacart community. Our team has been diligently working to offer new policies, guidelines, product features, resources, increased bonuses, and personal protective equipment to ensure the health and safety of shoppers during this critical time. We welcome all feedback from shoppers and we will continue to enhance their experience to ensure this important community is supported.”
“Since early March, we’ve introduced dozens of safety, social distancing and rigorous cleaning measures in our stores across the country. These include cleaning checklanes after each guest transaction and rotating the use of checklanes for deep cleaning, installing Plexiglass partitions at checklanes, actively monitoring, and when needed, metering guest traffic and implementing overhead audio messaging reminders, to name a few. With the safety of our guests and team members in mind, we continue to actively monitor the situation and make adjustments, as needed. . . . While we take them seriously, the concerns raised are from a very small minority. The vast majority of our more than 340,000 frontline team members have expressed pride in the role they are playing in helping provide for families across the country during this time of need.”
“We actively solicit and listen to shopper feedback and have taken numerous actions recently to support shoppers, including distributing protective equipment, providing financial assistance and paying bonuses. We’re very appreciative of Shipt Shoppers’ commitment to provide an important service to communities nationwide, and continue to see record numbers of shoppers deliver food, household goods and medicine to customers across the country each day.”
“This effort seems almost entirely focused on other companies within the service and retail industries. We are not aware of any planned involvement by FedEx team members.”