09 May 2020

Amazon is Evil, Part MMMMDCCCXXXVII

A fish, as the saying goes, rots from the head, and Amazon is rotten from head to tail:
Amazon workers in southern California’s industrial heartland say the company’s policies are forcing sick employees to work and that warehouses are refusing to comply with a state paid sick leave law meant to prevent Covid-19 outbreaks.


On 1 May, Amazon ended a policy allowing unlimited unpaid time off, a measure adopted at the start of the coronavirus crisis that allowed workers to take time off for any reason. They would forgo wages, but if they were concerned about their safety or had new childcare responsibilities due to lockdowns, they could stay home without losing their jobs.

Without the policy, workers say they could now be fired if they miss shifts. They worry the reversal will result in sick and vulnerable people showing up for shifts because they can’t risk termination. The health concerns are particularly serious in the Inland Empire, which has some of the worst air quality in the US and disproportionately high rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Employees also shared emails showing that Amazon has dismissed some paid sick leave requests by claiming a California law intended to provide supplemental sick leave during the pandemic does not apply to the warehouses.


A labor spokesperson for the state, however, told the Guardian that the law does apply to warehouses such as Amazon’s centers, noting that the order has a broad definition of “food facility”, which includes any operations that store or package food for human consumption.


On 16 April, the California governor, Gavin Newsom, passed an executive order providing food sector workers two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave if they have to isolate due to Covid-19 concerns. The law covers “workers at warehouses where food is stored” and is aimed at protecting consumers from the virus and offering additional support to essential workers whose jobs involve the food supply.

Amazon warehouses in the industrial neighborhoods of San Bernardino and Riverside counties handle a wide range of packages, including food items. But employees say that when they have asked about Newsom’s order in recent weeks, the human resources department has ignored their questions or responded that the facilities are not considered part of the food sector.


The company says in addition to the time off it provided before the coronavirus pandemic, it now gives two weeks of paid time off for infected employees and those presumed to have Covid-19. But in one recent case, a worker who tested positive only received his pay after a BuzzFeed reporter inquired about it, and employees across the country have reported difficulties getting any sick pay during the pandemic.

California’s law also appears to be broader than Amazon’s policy, requiring paid leave for workers who have to isolate due to health concerns, including if they live with someone sick or exposed, and it says they are entitled to “immediately” start leave upon request.
Seriously, if there is a company that needs aggressive and over the top antitrust enforcement more than Amazon, I have not heard of it.


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