Tech

Amazon workers protest at Michigan warehouse, calling for coronavirus protections

Key Points
  • Some Amazon workers at a Michigan warehouse known as DTW1 walked off the job on Wednesday.
  • On Monday, workers staged a similar protest at Amazon's Staten Island facility over fears Amazon isn't doing enough to protect workers as the coronavirus infects their colleagues.
  • Numerous warehouse workers have told CNBC they're afraid to go to work during the coronavirus outbreak, as they feel Amazon isn't ensuring safe working conditions. 
Amazon workers at Amazon's Staten Island warehouse strike in demand that the facility be shut down and cleaned after one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus on March 30, 2020 in New York.
Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Michigan staged a walkout on Wednesday to call for greater protections against the coronavirus. 

Organizers said about 40 employees walked out of the Romulus, Michigan, facility, known as DTW1. The workers are demanding that Amazon close DTW1 for two weeks in order to clean the facility, after two workers tested positive last week. News of the strike was first reported by The Verge

"We're just hoping that we were heard enough for [Amazon] to realize, OK, something needs to be done," said Tonya Ramsay, a leader of the walkout and a worker at DTW1. "We're hoping we don't get too much retaliation or pushback from them." 

An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC that it did not and will not take any disciplinary action against employees who participated in Wednesday's strike.

Following the strike, Ramsay said she received support from warehouse workers at other facilities in the country, with many of them indicating interest in staging similar protests at their facilities. 

A spokesperson from Amazon told CNBC that fewer than 15 of the facility's 4,000 employees participated in the strike. The spokesperson said Amazon has been implementing policy changes on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis to support teams and customers, including providing disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer in its facilities.

"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 spokesperson said in a statement. "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."

On Wednesday morning, workers at DTW1 received a text message from Amazon, which was also viewed by CNBC, informing them that a third person has tested positive for the coronavirus.

"Today, we learned of a third confirmed case of COVID-19 at DTW1," the text message reads. "The affected individual was last seen on site on March 28, and consistent with our daily processes, the site has been undergoing multiple enhanced cleanings during this time."

Amazon told workers in the text message that it was notifying any co-workers who may have been in contact with the individual who tested positive. The company also said that it wouldn't penalize any workers who felt uncomfortable coming into work.

The strike comes after workers at Amazon's facility in Staten Island, JFK8, walked out on Monday. Like the strike at DTW1, JFK8 workers demanded that Amazon close down the facility after a worker tested positive. Following the strike, Chris Smalls, the lead organizer of the Staten Island protest, was fired from his job at Amazon. The company said it fired Smalls for not following social distancing rules after he was quarantined, but Smalls said he was fired for organizing the strike. 

Workers at DTW1 said Amazon was not being transparent about the number of positive cases at the facility. A worker at DTW1, who asked to remain anonymous, previously told CNBC that it was impossible for employees to keep 6 feet apart, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Because of that, they didn't feel safe going to work and chose to stay home without a paycheck.

Mario Crippen, a warehouse worker and a lead organizer of the walkout, is calling for Amazon to give workers full pay while the warehouse is shut down, provide "adequate" paid time off to "anyone who needs to stay home," and provide a plan for when additional positive cases are discovered at fulfillment centers. 

"Amazon says that it values safety and health, but it's putting us, our families, and our communities in danger," Crippen said in a statement. "Amazon doesn't just owe it to workers — it owes it to all of us."

Ramsay said employees are afraid to go to work amid the pandemic and are "disgusted at Amazon's disregard for our safety and our health and the health of our neighbors." Ramsay added that despite Amazon and others' efforts to characterize warehouse workers as heroes on the front lines, employees are "working through a crisis not by choice but by necessity."

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