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Amazon workers call for pandemic pay and more PPE

Workers want the online retailer to bring back a $2-per-hour pay increase that applied early in the pandemic.

Mayor Lori Lighfoot and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) talk during a ceremony to mark the opening of an Amazon delivery station in Pullman in October. It was the company’s first delivery station within Chicago.
Amazon opened a delivery station in the Pullman neighborhood in October.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Amazon workers and labor rights groups chose Cyber Monday to demand the online retailer restore hazard pay and provide workers more protective equipment because of the nationwide surge in coronavirus cases.

While urging support for an online petition calling for better treatment of employees, the group Warehouse Workers for Justice announced a separate petition calling on the city of Chicago to reduce its budget deficit by raising taxes on Amazon.

“They’re not concerned about our lives. They’re more concerned about their packages,’’ said Garrick Sparkman, an Amazon driver from Gary, Indiana.

During a conference call with media, several workers and their supporters called on the online retailer to bring back a $2-per-hour pay increase that applied early in the pandemic but ended around June 1. With profits soaring because consumers have turned to online shopping, the company can afford to help employees who put themselves at risk, they said.

The Brookings Institution said in a report issued in November that Amazon could have quadrupled its hazard pay and still posted higher profits through the first three quarters of this year. The report, covering 13 of the nation’s largest retailers including Amazon, said their overall profits rose 39% compared with a year ago while wages of frontline workers were up about 10%.

Workers said Amazon’s virus protection for employees is lax. Driver Austin Lightfoot said there was only one day of employee temperature checks and delivery vans are never wiped down with disinfectant.

Amazon spokesperson Maria Boschetti did not reply directly about the hazard pay. She said in an email, “We have made over 150 COVID-19 process updates and procured protective gear to protect our teams and we did it because it was the right thing to do for our associates who are performing a vital service during this crisis. We encourage anyone interested in the facts to compare our overall pay and benefits, as well as our speed in managing this crisis, to other retailers and major employers across the country.”

In an Oct. 1 blog post, the company said 19,816 of employees nationwide had tested positive for the coronavirus. It said the infection rate among 1.37 million Amazon and Whole Foods Market employees was far less than that of the general population.

The company also said it tests workers regularly, even if they are asymptomatic.

The workers urged Chicago to impose a head tax on Amazon — a tax per employee — rather than raise property taxes on everyone. However, even if the city imposed such a head tax, it would have limited effect on Amazon, as most of its more than 11,000 Illinois jobs are outside Chicago.