Jira: Amazon deserves frowns for their employee treatment–now more than ever

One of the top businesses in the world, Amazon, is mistreating their workers in these hard times.

Amazon [Fair use]

One of the top businesses in the world, Amazon, is mistreating their workers in these hard times.

By Violet Jira, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science

In today’s world of big business, only one company can overnight ship you the TikTok lights you impulsively ordered at 3 a.m., deliver groceries directly to your doorstep with the press of a finger, aid you in streaming the latest episode of “Love Island” and deliver audiobooks directly to a tablet that they designed. No company seems quite as big as Amazon. 

But have you ever stopped to wonder how those TikTok lights appeared at your door overnight? Or who was responsible for collecting those groceries that appeared on your doorstep? Well, it isn’t magic and it certainly isn’t pretty as many of Amazon’s over 125,000 fulfillment center workers will tell you. And it seems like things are finally coming to a head. 

At an Amazon facility in Staten Island, workers struck over health concerns due to the coronavirus, but the story doesn’t start or end there. 

Amazon has a long history of less than ideal treatment of their workers. The complaints have been uniform and consistent–indirect penalties for using the restroom while on the clock, shifts that require workers to walk upwards of ten to fifteen miles from clock-in to clock-out and other serious complaints. 

An article about fulfillment worker Candice Dixon shows just how serious these injuries can be. “An Amazon-approved doctor said she had bulging discs and diagnosed her with a back sprain, joint inflammation, and chronic pain, determining that her injuries were 100 percent due to her job.” She only worked there for two months in 2018 and now she can hardly climb stairs. 

Two years later, fulfillment workers are having to come to grips with a different kind of concern. Amid the coronavirus crisis, workers argue that Amazon is not taking enough measures to ensure the safety and health of its workers. Employees at Amazon’s Staten Island facility repeated chants that indicated that as many as ten employees at their facility had tested positive for the virus, numbers that Amazon will neither acknowledge nor confirm.

“The plan is to cease all operations until the building is closed and sanitized…we’re asking the building to be closed and sanitized, and for us to be paid [during that process],”  Christian Smalls told CNN. Smalls orchestrated the strike only to find that he had been fired by Amazon. The move has prompted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to investigate his termination. 

Though the concerns Staten Island workers struck over on Mar. 30 are entirely different from the concerns highlighted by individuals like Candice Dixon, both work in tandem to speak to a larger problem with Amazon: they don’t treat their workers like people. 

The business model for a company like Amazon crushes those at the bottom of the totem pole with poor conditions and unfair wages. It works, though, because as any economist will tell you, the workers as a whole are indispensable, but the individual is not. There will always be someone who can retrieve their items and tape their boxes because it’s a job anyone could do and Amazon knows it. This is extremely problematic in a time like this where employees who are needed now more than ever (Amazon will hire nearly 100,000 more workers to deal with the influx of orders due to social distancing guidelines) are putting themselves and their health at great risk simply by going to work. 

Amazon has gotten away with treating their workers like machines, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be getting away with that for much longer. With more and more workers testing positive, Amazon is being pushed into a tight spot both socially and legally

And it’s not just Amazon. Companies that offer similar services like Walmart and other e-commerce businesses like Instacart and DoorDash must answer when their workers call upon them to keep them healthy and safe. 

Several days ago I ordered some books from Amazon to make the hours spent at home social-distancing a little bit more bearable. After writing this article, though, I found myself wishing that I had never ordered anything in the first place. While I’m in the comfort of my home awaiting my books, the people getting those books to me are doing so at great personal risk for what is honestly little reward.

 I don’t know what the solution is because, books aside, America is relying on companies like Amazon to get them necessary goods that they can no longer leave their homes to get. Whatever the solution is it needs to account for the health and safety of Amazon’s workers. For once in Amazon’s $1,000,000,000,000 history, the solution should not, cannot be complacence and business as usual. 

Alexa, play “Do Better.”

This story was originally published on The Vision MSMS on April 2, 2020.