Photo By: 
Chris Smalls

Target and Amazon Workers Strike

Across the country workers are demanding better pay and protection during the pandemic

Brian Young's picture
May 01, 2020

After periodic walkouts and sickouts over the past few weeks, workers at two of the nation's biggest companies are taking action on May Day. While job actions often take place on May 1st, also known as International Workers Day, this year’s strikes are taking on a new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers at Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Walmart, FedEx, Target, and Shipt walked off the job to protest employers' failures to provide basic protections for their workers who are deemed essential and expected to continue working for poverty wages. All of the employers are non-union. Unlike other companies, these businesses are still open and making money during the pandemic. These companies are also unique in that they have all been extremely busy during the shutdown. Target has seen lines out the door as people stockpile toilet paper, Instacart and Shipt have weeks-long backups to get deliveries and Amazon has more orders than they can process, pushing Prime deliveries back nearly a week.

The action, which is being called the “May Day General Strike” is asking customers to join in the action by boycotting the companies on May 1st. That means no ordering from Amazon or walking into a Target store. Companies like Amazon and Shipt have come under increasing pressure to protect their workers during the pandemic. In March employees at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse walked out over safety issues. Shipt workers also held a one day strike to protest the delivery app refusing to provide simple protections for their workers.

The striking workers have some simple demands. Workers at Amazon and their subsidiary Whole Foods say they want a shutdown and two-week quarantine of infected sites, the elimination of a testing requirement before someone can use sick leave, hazard pay, an end to delivery and warehouse quotas that risk employees health, an end to non-essential shipping, an end to retaliation against workers who speak up about safety conditions, and a move to delivery only for Whole Foods. Similarly, Target, Shipt, and Instacart workers want hazard pay, protective equipment, and app workers want a 10% default tip in the app and paid sick leave.

These seem like simple demands. Some are in line with CDC guidelines, while others like hazard pay should be standard. Amazon, Target, and Whole Foods only stay open and only make money if the employees risk their lives to come to work, so they should get paid. While workers at these job locations, especially Amazon, Fed Ex, and Target, have been organizing for years under groups such as Whole Worker, Target Workers Unite, and the Instacart Shoppers (National) Facebook group, the organizers report tremendous growth over the past few weeks as the pandemic grew. “What I’ve seen in the past two months, I’ve never seen before,” said Tyler Robertson who is a lead organizer of the walkout and a founder of Whole Worker.  “It’s a mass awakening of workers.”

While May Day job actions in the past usually involved loud rallies and protests, this year it will look a little different. Smaller, socially distant protests are being held and many workers simply called out sick and took to social media to let customers know the importance of boycotting these companies. That makes a consumer boycott even more important. For too long consumers have allowed these major companies to get away with abusing their workforces and there have been no repercussions. For the past 7 weeks, these employees have been forced to go to work during a pandemic, while many of us sat at home ordering groceries online from Instacart, ordering clothes on Amazon, or using our weekly trip to the store to stock up at Target.

We relied on these essential workers, yet never made a stink about the fact that they weren’t being protected. While union grocers were forking over bonuses, hazard pay, and buying PPE, these companies were doing the bare minimum and profiting off of it. However, without support from the customers, these companies won’t face any real consequences. So, consider heading to your union grocer instead of Whole Foods or Target. When shopping online consider whether you really need to put an Amazon worker at risk by buying that shirt during a pandemic or whether you can wait and maybe order it from a better company.

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