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The protest, dubbed the "People's Strike," takes place on May Day, a holiday dedicated to union and workers' rights demonstrations. Amazon, Whole Foods, Walmart, FedEx, Target, Shipt and Instacart workers are staging walkouts or "sickouts" Friday. Trader Joe's employees are boycotting, requesting customers do not purchase anything from the store for a day.
The strike was organized by former Amazon warehouse worker Chris Smalls, who was fired after staging a March 30 walkout at a Staten Island facility, where multiple confirmed COVID-19 cases among workers were reported.
"It's a historic day," Smalls told FOX Business."This is a historic moment."
The workers, who are considered essential during the pandemic, are not satisfied with the ways in which their respective employers have handled COVID-19 safety precautions and workers' benefits. Public transit drivers and health care professionals will also be joining the strike, Smalls said.
Workers for various companies have taken part in walkouts and virtual strikes for several weeks, but this is the first time they have all joined together for a single day of mass protesting.
"This is something that's never been done before," Smalls said. He added: "I want everyone to support the movement. We’re trying to protect our families and communities. We have real health and safety concerns."
Amazon, Whole Foods, Walmart, FedEx, Target, Shipt, Instacart and Trader Joe's are offering two weeks of paid leave for workers who test positive for COVID-19, as well as access to personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves, six-foot social distancing rules, among other safety requirements and benefits.
Most Walmart employees, for example, have access to $4 telehealth visits, as well as cash bonuses and accelerated first-quarter bonuses to all hourly employees. FedEx has implemented no-contact deliveries and provided additional sanitation measures for workers. Trader Joe's is performing wellness checks on workers when they come in. Amazon has implemented temperature checks for all employees, increased minimum wage for workers by $2 to $17 per hour, and increased overtime pay to double-time.
"Ever since they terminated me, they’ve done a number of things, finally," Smalls said when asked if employees after happy about any of the benefits Amazon has offered workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. "They’ve provided all buildings with PPE. My building was the first to do temperature checks."
He added, however, that "it’s still a very scary situation," and Amazon and other companies are "very late to the game" in terms of adding extra safety precautions and benefits for workers.
Amazon spokesperson Av Zammit said "the overwhelming majority" of Amazon's "more than 840,000 employees around the world are at work, as usual, continuing to support getting people in their communities the items they need during these challenging times."
"While there is tremendous media coverage of today’s protests we see no measurable impact on operations. Health and safety is our top priority and we expect to spend more than $800 million in the first half of the year on COVID-19 safety measures," Zammit added.
FedEx spokesperson Rae Lyn Rushing said the company was not aware of "any planned involvement by FedEx team members" in the protest, and the effort "seems almost entirely focused on other companies within the service and retail industries." Smalls confirmed that FedEx and Walmart employees are involved in the strike even though they are not included as authors in a press release he sent out.
A Shipt spokesperson said the company actively solicits and listens to its shoppers and has taken "numerous actions recently to support shoppers, including distributing protective equipment, providing financial assistance and paying bonuses."
An Instacart spokesperson said the company is "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." Benefits include an investment of $20 million into worker safety, shopper bonuses and new sick leave policies.
Walmart paid almost $180 million in cash bonuses to its hourly associates nationwide on Thursday and has fulfilled its goal of hiring 200,000 more employees since March in response to demand prompted by COVID-19.
Walmart, Target and Trader Joe's did not respond to FOX Business' request for comment.
Smalls doesn't know if companies will meet employee demands, but said Friday's strike "is just the beginning."
Some states are starting to ease COVID-19 restrictions as groups of people protest local governments with demands that they allow businesses to reopen. Smalls said he doesn't think that's a good idea.
"Opening up is very dangerous," he said. "I don’t see the logic behind it. None of us have been tested, so I don’t see how they’re going to reopen the country. Just because the numbers have gone down doesn’t mean we’re not asymptomatic carriers. Opening up the country is the wrong thing to do because we haven’t all been tested."
Employees for these companies have spoken out, arguing that despite the safety changes and proposals, their employers are not effectively enforcing rules to contain the spread of the virus and they are not receiving adequate compensation for working under conditions they feel are unsafe.
Here's what workers are demanding by company, according to a press release from workers at Amazon, Whole Foods, Shipt and Instacart. Trader Joe's workers issued a separate press release for their boycott.
Amazon, Whole Foods and Amazon DSP
- Retroactive pay for all employees for time they have used since March until the facilities reopen
- More PPE and cleaning supplies
- Paid leave that starts when an employee takes a COVID-19 test and ends when an employee tests negative
- 14-day closures and additional cleanings for facilities that have confirmed cases
- Hazard pay or paid leave for the duration of COVID-19
- More transparency about the number of confirmed cases at Amazon facilities
- Extended, unlimited unpaid time until June 1
- Van sanitation by cleaning professionals rather than employees
- Quality control teams at every Amazon warehouse to enforce rules
- Reinstatement of all employees who have been terminated for protesting during COVID-19 (Smalls has not been rehired, despite calls from government officials)
Target and Shipt
- Hazard pay of $5 per order
- Expansion of 14-day paid sick leave policy for all employees, not just those who have tested positive for COVID-19
- More PPE
- Expand protections at all retail stores that use Shipt
- More PPE at no cost to shoppers
- Hazard pay of $5 per order and a tip default of 10 percent of the price of an order during COVID-19
- Extended sick pay for workers diagnosed with COVID-19
- Limit customers in the store at one time and enforce social distancing
- Hazard pay at time-and-a-half
- Paid leave for high-risk workers
- Paid sick leave for all employees regardless of state policies
- Mandatory PPE for all customers and workers
- Faster responses from the company to address worker needs
"Our companies have failed us during these unprecedented times," the multi-company release reads. "So, essential workers from all over the globe have formed an alliance in solidarity and plan to hold a walkout/sickout on May 1, 2020."
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the release adds, "essential workers were subjected to exposure in our workplaces due to the lack of PPE, flawed policies and dense safety guidelines. Because of the failings of our employers, many of our fellow employees have contracted this deadly virus and some have died."
The release also notes that while companies have made some policy changes, "they are not enough" to protect workers and did not even exist in March, "when Christian Smalls was wrongfully terminated for raising health and safety concerns." Other employees have been terminated since Smalls staged the first walkout for protesting or speaking out against what they feel are inadequate COVID-19 safety measures.
The Trader Joe's release echoed the same concerns and said "the company's behavior has shown exactly what happens when workers aren't organized enough to have a voice."