A protest at a Manhattan apartment owned by Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos Wednesday afternoon sought to highlight safety concerns at the internet behemoth that employs hundreds of thousands of people nation-wide and seek legislation that would improve worker health and safety.
The demonstrators, only a few individuals who actually work at Amazon, were seeking legislation pending in the state legislature called the NY Hero Act, which would put more onus on companies such as Amazon to place a higher premium on worker safety and health. The bill comes as groups claim that nearly 20,0000 Amazon workers became ill with COVID-19 and some of those actually died of the virus, organizers say.
The rally at Bezo’s apartment building on Fifth Avenue in Flatiron was sponsored by Make the Road New York, the Alliance for a Greater New York and backed by members of the Teamsters Union that seek to unionize Amazon employees, focused on the NY Hero Act that would establish stricter health and safety standards and would protect workers who complain about lack of adherence to those health guidelines.
The protestors called on state lawmakers to pass the bill and for federal elected officials to support legislation that would break up Amazon and crackdown on the company’s alleged “anti-competitive practices. The protest also followed on the heels of Black Friday and some of the busiest shopping days of the year going into the Christmas season.
Organizers called Bezo’s a “pandemic profiteer” who they say made billions “while putting workers and their families at risk.”
Marisa Siova-Farrell, executive director for the Alliance for New York, said it is “time for Amazon to take a stand to protect workers’ health.”
“Workers and lives of communities are at risk here during this global pandemic and we need to feel its time for Amazon to stand up and do the right things to protect their workers,” she said. “The level of protection they are giving affects the workers in their warehouses, but also Black and brown communities. It is not enough to say we are giving some protection. Amazon has to act and they need to do it now.”
She said a “second wave” of COVID-19 places Amazon workers at higher risk.
“With the second wave we are unsure how workers will have protection and it is unclear whether there are health and safety guidelines in the workplace are actually in place. So what we are doing is making sure that the government, the governor and the state legislature passes the NY Hero Act to assure that workers are protected in the second wave.”
One Amazon associate, Dakar Wallace, was bold enough to take a stand with the members of the Alliance and union groups. He would not say whether he is seeking a union at Amazon but did say he and others just want to protect health and seek adequate salary compensation.
“Even though it’s my day off and had to stand on my feet for more than 10 hours a day, I came to say we need better pay, better protection, and we need to make sure that people are not being taken advantage of,” he said adding that he worked there six months before he got a 24 cent increase in pay in his one year at the company. “Because of the national pandemic, not only do I have to put myself at risk to go to work, it makes my commute much more difficult – there was no transportation for anyone between the hours of 1 a.m and 5 am. I had to get up early and it means I get much less sleep.”
Wallace said a friend of his who was pregnant was “disciplined for using the bathroom too much.”
When asked if he was seeking to unionize, he said, “I want us to get better protection, so that there are ways for someone like my friend, a woman I care about, to get protection after she had several seizures, it took seven months to get medical accommodation. Everybody should be invested in this.”
The NY HERO Act, or the New York Health and Essential Rights Act, would strengthen health and safety protections at Amazon and other corporations where workers have been at risk, including stricter PPE and testing guidelines. The union-backed bill would also give workers more power to monitor and enforce health and safety violations and protect them from retaliation for voicing concerns.