Retail workers at Amazon and Whole Foods coordinate sick-out to protest Covid-19 conditions Favorite 

Hundreds of workers at Amazon warehouses, Whole Foods grocery stores, Target retail stores, and shoppers at Instacart and Shipt called out sick on Friday as part of a coordinated one-day strike across the US in protest of working conditions and inadequate safety protections during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 1 May walkout began after Amazon ended its unlimited unpaid time off policy for workers at the end of April.

“The fact they took it away prior to the sick-out lets you know they’re aware of the sickout and trying to stop people from participating in that,” said Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York, who has worked at Amazon for more than four years. “Now they’re forcing people to go to work because if you run out of unpaid time off, that’s it, you’re fired.”

Palmer was one of the workers who participated in protests outside of JFK8 warehouse a few weeks ago in demand of safety protections for Amazon workers. An assistant manager at JFK8, Chris Smalls, was fired shortly after he organized the protest.

Palmer said that after the protests, Amazon began providing personal protective equipment to workers and enforcing social distancing rules and temperature checks, but he said cleaning procedures remain inadequate.

“While we respect people’s right to express themselves, we object to the irresponsible actions of labor groups in spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon during this unprecedented health and economic crisis,” said the spokesperson in an email.

At Target, workers complained it took too long for the company to provide workers with personal protective equipment, and little is being done to enforce social distancing within stores. According to Target Workers Unite, over 100 stores and some distribution centers are represented in the sickout.

“I’m participating because Target Corporation has not designed or enforced adequate protection for its workers,” said Sophie Haras, who has worked at a Target store in Hadley, Massachusetts for over one year.

“Social distancing guidelines are regularly ignored by both employees and guests, and the amount of customers allowed inside the store is in the hundreds, so high that my store leader, among others, has decided not to count customers at all. Target has also neglected to be transparent about positive cases of Covid-19, both in our stores and distribution centers.”

Michelle Enright, a department specialist at Target in Sterling Heights, Michigan for 28 years, is participating in the sick out due to the lack of protections provided to workers during the pandemic.

“There is no support from Target corporate,” said Enright. “What we want to do is make the point we are humans, we can get sick, and we’re not just pieces of a machine.”

A Target spokesperson told the Guardian in an email: “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.”

Whole Foods workers organized their first sick-out protest on 31 March, and are joining the 1 May day of action calling on more workers to join the sick-out and participate in organized protests.

The sick-out includes demands such as increased hazard pay, paid sick leave for workers who choose to isolate or self-quarantine, and the closure of stores in response to confirmed coronavirus cases among workers. At least two Whole Foods employees have died from coronavirus, and over 200 workers have tested positive around the US.

“We are organizing a sickout on May 1 to call on Whole Foods to provide the protective measures listed in our demands, which they have not provided despite internal complaints, a letter from fourteen state attorney generals, and concerns raised with OSHA,” said Dan Steinbrook, a Whole Foods employee in the Boston, Massachusetts area and one of the organizers of the sick out.

A Whole Foods spokesperson disputed the claims of workers calling for the sickout protest. “Our focus right now is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our Team Members, which remains our top priority, while continuing to serve our customers and communities,” said the spokesperson.

Shoppers at Instacart organized their first sick-out protest on 30 March, and Shipt shoppers launched their own independent sick-out protest on 7 April.

Vanessa Bain, an Instacart shopper in the San Francisco, California, area and an organizer of the sick out, noted few Instacart shoppers have received personal protective equipment kits in response to demands made during their first sick-out protest. She received a PPE kit, which included a paper-thin mask, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer that didn’t work.

As Instacart hired 300,000 new shoppers in the month of April, and continues to hire more to keep up with increased demands for grocery delivery services, Bain asserts Instacart has to take meaningful action to protect workers and the public during this pandemic.

“We’re trying to build a movement across companies and elevate each other’s demands,” said Bain. “We’re all in the same position as frontline workers making similar demands that companies have failed to meet that are basic and essential to be able to do our jobs safely.”

An Instacart spokesperson told the Guardian in an email: “We remain singularly focused on the health and safety of the Instacart community. Our team has been diligently working to offer new policies, guidelines, product features, resources, increased bonuses, and personal protective equipment to ensure the health and safety of shoppers during this critical time.”

Posted by Lorena06 on

Staff rating: 



How does this project help?

Timeframe For change


The project was effective in gaining both media attention, and corporation attention to varying degrees. The article states that after the protests, "Amazon began providing personal protective equipment to workers and enforcing social distancing rules and temperature checks, but ... cleaning procedures remain inadequate." Target responded as well, but minimized the protest by stating the concerns raised are "from a very small minority." Whole Foods responded by saying their focus is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of their team members, which is an unclear response. The article states that in response to the sick-out, an Instacart shopper "received a PPE kit, which included a paper-thin mask, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer that didn’t work." Instacart shared with the Guardian that they are working to "ensure the health and safety of shoppers during this critical time." It is unclear how effective the Shipt protests were.