Update: This column has been updated to include a response from an Amazon spokesperson.
More than 300 Amazon warehouse workers across 50 locations will conduct what they call a "mass call out" this week, workers rights organization United for Respect said this week, according to CNBC. Unlike a traditional walkout, where people leave a facility at once, the workers will instead call in "sick" this week whenever they have their shifts. United for Respect said it expects the sick out to begin on Tuesday and extend through Friday, according to CNBC.
The demonstrators want Amazon to "immediately close down" any distribution facility with a confirmed positive Covid-19 case. The workers are also asking for two weeks of paid leave while the facility is closed down, guaranteed healthcare, and other requests.
This protest is part of a broader and extended debate between some workers and Amazon over whether the company is doing enough to protect its warehouse and delivery employees. Some workers have said that they fear for their health because of the coronavirus outbreak, and fear Amazon isn't doing enough to protect them.
For its part, Amazon has said that it has implemented a variety of sanitation policies to protect workers, and requires employees to follow strict cleanliness rules. The company has also said that the safety of its workers is a top priority.
Still, many workers don't necessarily feel that way--and they want to be heard. Unfortunately for them, their efforts may do little to actually force Amazon to change.
"Reports of employee participation in today's event organized by labor unions are grossly exaggerated," Amazon spokesperson Av Zammit told Inc. in an e-mailed statement. "Already more than 250,000 people have come to work today, even more than last week, to serve their communities. We couldn't be more grateful and proud for their efforts during this time.
"The union organizers' claims are also simply false - what's true is that masks, temperature checks, hand sanitizer, increased time off, increased pay, and more are standard across our network because we care deeply about the health and safety of our employees," Zammit added. "We encourage anyone to compare the health and safety measures Amazon has taken, and the speed of their implementation, during this crisis with other retailers."
In just the last month, Amazon hired 100,000 new employees and said it will hire an additional 75,000 workers to meet unprecedented consumer demand. As of now, only a few hundred workers are planning to sick out.
That's something that Amazon has highlighted over the years when warehouse workers staged protests around the busy holiday shopping season to demand more pay or other benefits. Despite those walkouts, Amazon is quick to note, it can continue to provide its service with no impact to its deliveries.
Amazon hasn't commented on the planned sick out, but it's hard to imagine those few hundred people having any real impact on the company's business. Until Amazon employees start staging protests by the thousands, the company seems impervious to any real pain they may cause.
But that's not to say that what the Amazon workforce is demanding isn't important. Indeed, their voices should be heard and their concerns considered by the company and its customers.