Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

In New York, Amazon workers are going on strike over pandemic working conditions

Employees say that there is not enough on-site protection.

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Amazon employees are striking in New York over a reported lack of protective equipment in warehouse facilities. 

Workers walked out on Monday, demanding both protective equipment and hazard pay from Amazon to keep the flow of goods going, as reported by The Guardian.  

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for goods from the e-commerce marketplace has ramped up. As a consequence, Amazon is seeking thousands of more workers to keep up with demand -- but criticism has been levied against the company for apparently not providing enough protective equipment, enforcing social distancing measures, or adequately cleaning. 

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New York is currently the worst hit for COVID-19 cases and the area is now deemed an epicenter for infection. At the time of writing, there are close to 190,000 confirmed cases across the whole of the United States. 

Of real concern to the striking employees is the general level of sanitation of the JFK8 warehouse in light of reports that multiple employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

The leader of the strike, Chris Smalls, told CNBC on the ground that the workers would continue until the warehouse was closed and thoroughly cleaned. 

Smalls was dismissed from Amazon. The former employee claimed that "Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe."

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However, Amazon said that Smalls was warned, more than once, for violating social distancing measures and was asked to go home for a period of time after coming into contact with a confirmed coronavirus case. The company has also disputed claims that adequate hygiene measures are not being maintained. 

"We are following all guidelines from local health officials and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site," an Amazon spokesperson said. 

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New York state's attorney general, Letitia James, deemed Amazon firing the worker as "disgraceful." The incident has also caught the attention of NY Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said in a tweet that an investigation would be launched "into allegations that an Amazon worker on Staten Island was fired for raising health and safety concerns."

In related news, Amazon may be offering its logistics network to deliver COVID-19 testing kits across the United States. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been in discussions with World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus over how the company can assist in the outbreak, and logistics & supply for tests could be one avenue. 

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