Amazon extends wage increases for warehouse workers

A worker loads customer orders into a semi-trailer waiting inside Amazon’s million-square-foot distribution warehouse that opened last fall in Fall River, MA, on March 23, 2017.

John Tlumacki | Boston Globe | Getty Images

Amazon extends wage increases for warehouse workers amid the coronavirus epidemic, the company announcement Friday.

In March, Amazon announced it would increase hourly wages and offer double overtime to warehouse and delivery workers. The company is now extending both of these benefits until May 16.

Workers can earn an additional $ 2 per hour in the US, £ 2 ($ 2.47) per hour in the UK, and around 2 euros ($ 2.16) per hour in many EU countries. Amazon currently pays $ 15 an hour or more in parts of the United States for warehouse and delivery work. All employees working overtime in its US warehouses will earn double their hourly wages.

Amazon had previously said it would pay double the overtime pay until May 9, while the hourly wage increase was due to expire at the end of April.

The company has not indicated its intention to extend its policy of unlimited leave without pay, which was announced in March. The policy has allowed workers to stay home without pay and face no penalties for being absent.

Instead of unlimited unpaid time off, Amazon said workers can take time off leave, which is expanded to cover circumstances related to the coronavirus. Leave is generally unpaid and usually covers life events such as death in the family, the birth of a new child or medical reasons, among others. Additionally, Amazon’s benefits manual states that although workers’ employment at Amazon is maintained on leave, reinstatement in their position is “not guaranteed, except as required by applicable law.” .

Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said the company would accept time off from “high-risk people” or workers affected by school closures. “We continue to see strong demand during this difficult time and the team is doing an incredible job for our customers and the community,” added Lighty.

Unlike Amazon office workers, many fulfillment center workers and delivery drivers cannot perform their duties while working from home. Amazon’s sprawling distribution network, which powers the one-day and two-day deliveries that customers expect, job more than 250,000 workers at more than 110 sites across the country.

The coronavirus outbreak has tested the fast-paced and high-demand nature of Amazon’s warehouses, as facilities across the country have reported positive cases of the virus and some workers have chosen to stay home out of fear of the virus. ‘catch the virus on the job.

“They leave us no choice”

Amazon’s decision not to extend unlimited unpaid leave could force many workers to make tough decisions about their work and their safety and that of their families.

Two Amazon warehouse workers who asked to remain anonymous said they took unpaid leave of absence for more than a month because they feared getting sick and bringing the virus home to their families . One of the employees, who works at an Amazon factory in Massachusetts, said if unpaid time off was no longer an option, she was ready to take time off or quit her job, which would be the “worst case”. ”

“The last thing I want to do is quit my job because I really love working for Amazon, but I have a toddler and a very sick father to look after,” the worker said. “I wouldn’t want to risk exposing them to this virus. ”

Amazon previously said it has gone to “great efforts” to keep facilities clean and ensure employees follow necessary precautions, such as washing their hands, using hand sanitizer and practicing social distancing. It also started take employees’ temperatures when they report to work and provided them with face masks. Additionally, Amazon announced several changes in worker benefits, including increase wages for warehouse workers and delivery drivers $ 2 an hour during the month of April and double overtime.

Still, Amazon employees who spoke to CNBC argue that these efforts are not enough to ensure their safety. Their concerns have grown steadily in recent weeks. Workers staged a nationwide protest this week to demand that Amazon take bigger steps to protect them from catching the virus, such as shutting down facilities where there are positive cases and pledging not to not retaliate against partners who speak out, referring to several workers who were made redundant after criticizing Amazon’s treatment of workers. Amazon says they were fired for violating internal policies.

Phil Ruiz, who works at a facility in Staten Island, New York, known as JFK8, said he participated in this week’s protest. Ruiz said he wanted Amazon to provide retroactive compensation to workers who take unpaid time off, as well as shutting down facilities with positive cases.

Ruiz said as long as the number of positive cases continues to rise, he will continue to stay at home. And it looks like that may be the case in the near future, as workers at JFK8 were told about seven new cases at the facility on Thursday, according to a document obtained by CNBC. It was after workers were informed on Tuesday of several new cases at JFK8.

“They’re giving us double the overtime, but what’s the money for us if this virus could potentially kill us,” Ruiz said. “Money doesn’t mean anything if you’re dead and buried in the ground.”

An Amazon employee at a facility in Joliet, Mich., Said he would rather go to work and get paid, but has been taking unpaid time off since March 12 because he fears for his safety. The employee said going to work could also put his daughter-in-law, who is immunocompromised, at risk of catching the virus.

“I can’t take the risk,” the worker, who asked to remain anonymous, told CNBC. “I need the job to support my daughter-in-law, but they don’t give us a choice when you don’t keep the facilities clean.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Amazon will be expanding its program to pay workers an additional $ 2 per hour until May 16.

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