Amazon Struggles to Adapt to Many Challenges of Pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon and its chief executive Jeff Bezos are weathering volatile times. Amazon is suffering shortages of goods, delays in shipping, an employee sick-out at Whole Foods Markets, and a walkout at a fulfillment center, which led to the firing of the strike leader. Amazon’s removal of counterfeit/price gouging products also means a shortage in face masks and sanitizers. At the same time, Amazon’s cloud-services company Amazon Web Services is booming, as home-bound customers stream content on Amazon Prime.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “in some areas that have emerged as hot spots for the virus, including San Francisco, Chicago and New York, items such as Lysol disinfecting wipes and office supplies useful for working at home haven’t been available or cannot be delivered for a month or longer,” and users haven’t been able to have groceries delivered.

“Leaders across Amazon are meeting every day to consider the evolving situation and are consulting with medical experts to ensure the safety for our sites, employees and customers,” said an Amazon spokeswoman. WSJ notes that, “Amazon has been processing from 10 percent to 40 percent more packages than normal for this time of year… [and] its website had 639,330,722 visits for the week of March 9, according to data from comScore, up 32 percent from the year earlier.”

Amazon teams are “adjusting, rapidly implementing a dizzying array [of] process and policy changes on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis,” according to senior vice president of worldwide operations Dave Clark, who added that the company has made 100+ “significant changes to human resources and operations over the past few weeks.”

The company also stated plans to hire 100,000 new U.S. workers, representing a 20 percent increase in the workforce there. Employees have tested positive to COVID-19 or been quarantined from “at least 15 facilities,” and stores temporarily closed for cleaning, leading to delayed shipments. Now the U.S.’s second largest employer, Amazon has made efforts to assuage workers with better wages, improved training opportunities and “a raft of concessions” related to time-off and sick-leave pay.

WSJ reports that, “some company warehouse and delivery employees said such measures were vital to get people simply to come to work.”

Bloomberg reports that “Chris Smalls, an Amazon fulfillment center employee, said the company fired him after he led a strike at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, over coronavirus safety conditions.” After several colleagues at the fulfillment center had been diagnosed with COVID-19, the workers walked off the job “to demand Amazon close the facility for extended cleaning.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James called the firing “immoral and inhumane … [and] urged the National Labor Relations Board to investigate the incident.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s Commission on Human Rights would “investigate Amazon immediately.”

Amazon countered that Smalls “violated safety regulations, including failing to abide by a 14-day quarantine required after being exposed to an employee with a confirmed case of COVID-19.” Despite the paid quarantine, the company said, Smalls “came on site today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk.”

Smalls insisted the firing was a retaliation; “Federal law protects the right of employees to engage in collective action, including strikes, to protest working conditions.”

Related:
Amazon’s Covid Hiring Boom Has Applicants Packed Into Job Fairs With No Special Precautions, Bloomberg, 4/1/20