‘CEOs Don’t Care About Our Lives’: These Essential Workers Are Walking Off Their Jobs Today

Graphic via Tania Lili for COURIER

By Rebekah Sager

May 1, 2020

Workers from Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, Amazon, FedEx, and Amazon’s Whole Foods Market are planning to either call in sick or walk off their jobs at lunchtime on May 1

Employees and gig workers from some of America’s wealthiest companies are planning a massive strike on Friday to protest what they call dangerous and unfair working conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Workers from Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, Amazon, FedEx, and Amazon’s Whole Foods Market are planning to either call in sick or walk off their jobs at lunchtime on May 1—it is also International Workers’ Day or May Day. 

“These workers have been exploited so shamelessly for so long by these companies while performing incredibly important but largely invisible labor,” Stephen Brier, a labor historian and professor at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies told Intercept. “All of a sudden, they’re deemed essential workers in a pandemic, giving them tremendous leverage and power if they organize collectively.”

RELATED: Whole Foods, Amazon, and Instacart: The Coronavirus Crisis Could Be a ‘Watershed Moment’ for Unions

Called the “People’s Strike,” workers are demanding pay for unpaid time off work, hazard pay, sick leave, health insurance for all, personal protective equipment, and available cleaning supplies at workplaces. “Because of the failings of our employers, many of our fellow employees have contracted this deadly virus and some have died,” organizers wrote in a statement released Wednesday. They  also implore customers to support workers’ efforts and boycott the companies.

Workers and labor organizers say Amazon in particular has not been transparent about the numbers of employees in its fulfillment centers with the virus. Christian Smalls, one of the lead organizers of the strike, said he was fired by retailer in March for organizing a walkout in New York after a worker in the warehouse tested positive for COVID-19. Amazon has countered that Smalls was fired for “violating social distancing guidelines” after having “contact with a diagnosed associate.”

He posted a video on Twitter featuring workers from various companies listing their demands for changes to improve working conditions. “The CEOS don’t care about our lives,” two workers said. 

“We formed an alliance between a bunch of different companies because we all have one common goal which is to save the lives of workers and communities,” Smalls told Vice. “Right now isn’t the time to open up the economy.”

According to Intercept, an Indiana Amazon employee, working alongside a small team of Amazon workers, has catalogued at least 500 coronavirus cases in at least 125 Amazon facilities. Whole Worker, a grassroots group representing Whole Foods employees, also said they’ve calculated at least 254 Whole Foods workers have tested positive for the virus, with two confirmed deaths. 


Meanwhile, Amazon’s first quarter earnings released on Thursday showed a 26% revenue increase due to more people shopping online. 

Instacart, which made $10 million in April—their first profit since launching—said in a statement that they’re “singularly focused on the health and safety of the Instacart community.” 

Referring to Target employees who plan to participate in today’s protest, the big-box retailer said in a statement: “While we take them seriously, the concerns raised are from a very small minority. The vast majority of our more than 340,000 frontline team members have expressed pride in the role they are playing in helping provide for families across the country during this time of need.”

“May 1 is a celebration of working people around the world,” Margaret Kimberley wrote for the Black Agenda Report. “It is the perfect moment to begin the fight for economic justice which has accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”



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