Chicago Amazon Workers Demand More Coronavirus Safety Measures After Two Pilsen Warehouse Employees Test Positive For Virus

Ariel Parrella-Aureli
April 04, 2020 - 5:44 pm
Amazon strike

(Miguel Mar)

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Amazon workers are demanding the corporation close the Pilsen warehouse and thoroughly sanitize it after two employees tested positive for coronavirus.

At an early Saturday morning protest in front of the Amazon warehouse at 2804 S. Western Ave., dozens of warehouse and delivery drivers took to the streets, picketing the area with signs, chants and demands that the company take more safety precautions to protect employees, cover medical bills for those who get the virus, give them access to cleaning supplies, pay employees who must self-isolate and be transparent on new company protocols in the face of the pandemic.

Amazon employees who organized as the group DCH1 Amazonians United said that last Tuesday a worker tested positive for COVID-19 but management didn't tell the others until the end of the shift on Friday.

The strike, which was the fourth one this week and the second one in a row, was met with cars circling the street in support of the workers, which were sent by members of the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. 

After the first protest on Tuesday, workers were robot-called by human resources stating that they had received a violation because they congregated, according to those present at the protest.

Amazon workers
Drivers and warehouse workers striked for the fourth time this week outside the Amazon warehouse in Pilsen for over three hours. (Miguel Mar)

"When we confront management with questions that contract their statement about how they are keeping us safe, they keep on reiterating the same issue or they come at us with vague threats statements," said a worker on why they are protesting. "Our supervisor wanted us to stand six feet apart from one another but they are not out there on the floor like we are. They don't know how difficult it is for us to be six feet apart."

Employees signed a petition asking for better safety protocols and Amazon's response was to threaten termination to those who signed it, according to another worker. The petition asks Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to grand employees paid sick leave, childcare options, hazard pay and more. 

Another worker from a different warehouse said the same frustrations are felt where he works. Amazon has long been known to be against unions and has attempted to bust employees unionizing in the past. 

Amazon strike
Over a dozen workers were joined by the CTU, Chicago DSA and cars while picketing outside Amazon warehouses. (Miguel Mar)

25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez was also at the protest, which began around 6:30 a.m. to coincide with the start of the first shift. Sigcho-Lopez, who was previously endorsed by Chicago DSA, was on the phone with the police, who were also there and tried to get workers to stop idling in the street.

"The atrocities here with corporations like Amazon expose the workers to the [coronavirus pandemic," Sigcho-Lopez told Patch Illinois. "Two positive cases; last week we were here too, and the workers demanded Amazon to clean the facility. They haven't done it."

The strike joins nationwide movements of employees who say they have been dismissed from the giant tech company. Amazon has not responded to the demands of Chicago workers specifically but on April 2, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations at Amazon Dave Clark responded to the backlash and announced it will provide masks and temperature checks to all U.S. and European employees. 

Clark also said the company is looking into better adhering to social distancing rules that can be difficult in warehouses were employees were in close quarters.

"We also assigned some of our top machine learning technologists to capture opportunities to improve social distancing in our buildings using our internal camera systems," Clark wrote on the Amazon blog.

He also addressed paid sick time, an issue many employees in Chicago have asked for as more employees contract the virus.

"If someone would rather not come to work, we are supporting them in their time off. If someone is diagnosed or comes to us who is presumptively diagnosed (but unable to get a test), we are giving them extra paid time off," he said. "In addition, we are also contacting people who have been in close contact with a diagnosed individual and giving them time off as well, for 14 days, to stay home with pay. We continue to evaluate all options to ensure the support of our teams during this unprecedented time."