Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Amazon's Warehouse Practices Endanger Employees as Coronavirus Spreads

The best approach to keep from getting Coronavirus (more accurately called COVID-19) is to avoid groups of people and to engage in "social distancing" by standing at least 6 feet away from other people.   I know from my own experience working at an Amazon facility a few years ago that many of the practices at Amazon warehouses then would be quite problematic, even dangerous, today. So I checked in with a friend of mine this morning who still works at an Amazon facility to see what
changes have been made to make employees safe.

In response to Coronavirus, Amazon is encouraging employees to wash their hands more frequently (more on that in a bit) and hand sanitizer is more readily available.  (Supposedly a $2 raise is also in the offing and anyone who gets the virus gets two weeks sick leave.)  But the practices Amazon uses at its facility, which causes large groups of employees to congregate at several points during the day, remains unabated.

At Amazon facilities, all workers on a shift arrive at the same time.  Hundreds of employees file through the door in close proximity to each other.  They stand next to each at the time clock waiting to punch in.  Then they proceed to a "stand up," a meeting at which employees of each particular department stand right next to each other as a manager makes announcements, conducts stretching exercises, and gives the employees a pep talk (think the rah-rah talks football coaches give their players) to encourage them to work hard during their shift.

After about a few hours of work, employees at the facility are given a 15 minute break; all of the employees head to the break room at the same time.  After about 5 hours of work, employees are given a 30 minute "lunch" break off the clock.  So all the employees go to the time clock, stand next to each other as they clock out and then proceed together to the breakroom where they congregate to buy food or get food they brought from home and put in a refrigerator.  Then the employees sit in close proximity to each other as they enjoy lunch.

After lunch, employees gather to clock back in, then proceed back for a second standup in which they, again, stand next to other employees.   Then another 15 minute break.  Finally, at the end of the shift, people line up to clock out and then file out of the building. Together.  During a shift, an Amazon employee could have easily been exposed to as many as a hundred people.

Now about frequently washing your hands.  That is a good sanitary practice, but it not a panacea.  If someone next to you at standup has Coronavirus and is breathing your air, it does not really matter if your hands are freshly washed.  Nonetheless, like so many things about Amazon, the preaching about handwashing is a ruse.  Amazon still requires your scanner to go off every six minutes or it is considered "time off task," the accumulation of which time can lead to disciplinary action.  Most bathrooms are a good three minutes walk away if not more. Do the math.  Also, taking a break to wash your hands, means you might not meet productivity requirements.  More disciplinary action.

Of course, Amazon will respond to media inquiries saying that they do not stop employees from taking breaks to wash their hands.  That is absolutely correct and, unfortunately, most media will report that response without followup.  Amazon is not punishing employees for hand-washing, but instead punishing employees for the inevitable consequences, i.e. "time off task" and decreased productivity, that result if you frequently wash your hands.

More than hand-washing, I was interested in learning from my friend what changes Amazon had made to practices that encourage, indeed require, employees to congregate together.  I figured to hear about staggered shift start times, staggered break and lunch times, and the elimination of the stand-up.  (There are a lot of ways to convey necessary information to the employees, including sending messages over the employees scanner).  None of that.  All the same practices continue to this day.

Or here is another idea.  How about Amazon providing respirator masks to its employees for use during their shift, at least to those who want to use them?  Amazon sells those, after all.  Nope.

Anyone who thinks Amazon is good to its employees does not know how the company treats its employees.  Amazon received a lot of applause when it raised minimum pay at its facility to $15 an hour.  But what most media types missed is at the same time Amazon was raising employee pay $1 or $2 an hour, Amazon cut out very lucrative performance and attendance bonuses that dwarfed the meager pay increase.  The $15 an hour minimum announcement duped most of the media, as well as a lot of politicians.

It is only a matter of time before the stories of Coronavirus spreading at Amazon warehouses begins.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read today’s IBJ (3/25)