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Workers at Amazon, Walmart, others plan 'May Day' strike Friday over safety

Workers at Amazon, Walmart, others plan 'May Day' strike Friday over safety
A contractor arranges Amazon Prime groceries at a Whole Foods Market in Silver Spring, Md., on March 31. The same day, a workers group encouraged employees to call out sick to demand improved safety and benefits during the coronavirus crisis. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

May 1 (UPI) -- Employees for a number of major U.S. companies planned a mass strike Friday -- International Worker's Day -- to protest health conditions at their workplaces due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A coalition of workers from Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, FedEx and Shipt plan to stage a walkout or "sickout" due to what they say are flawed policies and lack of protective equipment that's exposed some to the coronavirus disease.

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The workers will either call out sick or walk out during their lunch break Friday. Union members are also expected to join the coalition.

"Because of the failings of our employers, many of our fellow employees have contracted this deadly virus and some have died," said a statement shared by organizer Christian Smalls, who was fired from Amazon after organizing a strike at a Staten Island facility last month. "Although there have been some changes in company policies, they are not enough to adequately protect us."

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"It's very important for us as similarly positioned workers to come together for demands that are pretty universal," Vanessa Bain, an organizer of the Instacart walkout, said. "In addition to building broader worker power, the point of our mass strike action is to bring this to the attention of the politicians and policy makers. We need them to address our demands now, and the fastest way to ensure that this happens is for companies to feel pressured into doing it."

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The workers also shared a list of demands they deem necessary during the health crisis -- including hazard pay, personal protective equipment, disinfectant and hand sanitizer, clean delivery vehicles and closing facilities where workers have been infected.

Amazon said disinfecting and protective equipment is already available to workers.

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"Disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer are already standard across our network, and the procurement teams have worked tirelessly to create new sources of supply to keep these critical items flowing," a spokesperson said in an email to UPI. "In fact, we've sourced millions of additional units of items like disinfectant wipes, gloves, and hand sanitizer for our teams and also reconfigured buildings to include additional hand-washing and sanitary equipment stations.

"Masks too are now standard across our network and in ample supply, and all Amazon [workers and partners] are required to wear them."

Amazon workers also say the retailer hasn't been transparent about the number of its workforce who have tested positive for the disease. The company also disputes that claim.

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"When a COVID-19 case is confirmed in one of our buildings, we communicate this news to all individuals who work at that site -- not just to those who've come in close contact with the diagnosed individual," the spokesperson said.

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Instacart said it's 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."

Target dismissed the protest, saying a "very small minority" of its workers are involved.

"The vast majority of our more than 340,000 front-line team members have expressed pride in the role they are playing in helping provide for families across the country during this time of need," the retailer said.

"This is why we're conducting health screens and daily temperature checks and providing masks and gloves to all associates," Walmart representative Jami Lamontagne added.

FedEx representative Jim Masilak said the shipping company doesn't expect any of its drivers to participate in the protest, saying the effort seems "almost entirely focused on other companies within the service and retail industries."

U.S. copes with COVID-19 pandemic

Bass Pro Shops marketing manager David Smith (R) carries a box of donated face masks into Mercy Health in Chesterfield, Mo., on May 13. The company is donating 1 million FDA-approved ASTM Level 1 Procedure Face Masks to healthcare workers and first responders working on the front lines of the pandemic. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

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