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Some of New York City's 'essential workers' stage sickouts, go on strike due to virus fears

5 months 2 weeks 5 days ago Tuesday, March 31 2020 Mar 31, 2020 March 31, 2020 5:58 AM March 31, 2020 in News
Source: ABC News
Christian Smalls, an Amazon warehouse employee, holds up a sign outside of his job after going on strike due to being urged to work amid questionable conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. (New York City) Photo: Reuters

In New York City, a group of workers at an Amazon warehouse walked off the job and went on strike, urging the company to temporarily close and clean its facilities. 

According to ABC News, the workers said multiple warehouse employees tested positive for COVID-19 and they're afraid the contagious virus will continue to spread.

The worker's concerns are legitimate, as novel coronavirus has already resulted in a death toll of 800 people in New York City alone. 

Other New York City workers who are considering walking away from their jobs include employees of the online grocery shopping and delivery service Instacart and Whole Foods employees who've implemented a planned "sickout." 

“People are afraid to work. People are there working and they’re putting their lives at risk because there are a number of (coronavirus) cases that they are not aware of," Chris Smalls, an employee at the Amazon fulfillment center in New York's Staten Island borough who is organizing the walkout, told ABC News.

Smalls said the company is not being honest with employees about the number of colleagues who have tested positive for the virus in recent days and that management has only confirmed that one worker at the warehouse has come down with the virus.

"That’s a bold face lie because I sent home the third case directly," Smalls said, adding that he knows of a total of seven cases at the facility that employs more than 4,000 people.

Smalls said the company placed him on quarantine on Saturday because he came in close contact with a worker who tested positive.

He said he sent the infected worker home on Tuesday when she was showing symptoms of illness. He said the worker was tested on Wednesday but was allowed to return to work until her test results came back positive on Thursday.

“She already had time to spread it. Her friend caught it. Her friend was the third case," Smalls said. "She tested positive and she’s a supervisor in the pack department and the pack department is right before the items go out door to the customers. It’s dangerous."

Smalls joined a group of employees of workers who walked off the job and formed a picket line outside the warehouse, making sure they practice safe social distancing.

"We’re trying to get the building closed down and sanitized. That’s all we’re asking for," Smalls said.

In a statement to ABC News, Amazon said it has been working to keep employees safe at the Staten Island fulfillment center, adding that claims made by Smalls that the company is putting workers in jeopardy are "simply unfounded."

"Of the 5,000 employees at our Staten Island site, 15 people -- less than a half a precent of associates -- participated in today's demonstration," Amazon's statement reads. "Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis.

"Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable," the company's statement reads. "We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances. The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day."

Amazon employees working in the grocery and delivery services have been classified as essential workers by government officials across the country.

The company says it's upping hourly wages from $17.50 to $23 to workers at the Staten Island warehouse and paying double overtime to those who show up to work. The company is also offering extended leave to full-time employees who prefer to stay home during the crisis.

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