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Amazon, Instacart respond to worker backlash over COVID-19

Some Amazon and Instacart workers walked off the job earlier this week after accusing their employers of failing to offer adequate protection against the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

Amazon and Instacart have now acted to increase worker protections, with both companies outlining new measures on Thursday, April 2.

Amazon, which has already seen a number of warehouse staff fall sick with the virus, said it has started to conduct temperature checks “at select sites around the U.S.” in a bid to ensure that employees are healthy when they show up for work. While it is currently checking the temperature of more than 100,000 workers per day, it’s aiming to carry out daily checks across its entire U.S. and European operations network and Whole Foods Market stores by early next week, Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, said in a message on the company’s website.

“Anyone registering a temperature over the CDC-recommended 100.4 degree Fahrenheit (38 degree Celsius) will be asked to return home and only come back to work after they’ve gone three days without a fever,” Clark wrote in the post.

The executive said that while disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer are already standard items across its network, its procurement teams are working to create new sources of supply to ensure they don’t run out. He added that it is also planning to distribute millions of masks to its warehouse workers “as quickly as possible,” and should be in all locations “by early next week.” Clark said Amazon is also looking at ways to improve social distancing among workers at its warehouses.

If someone is diagnosed with the virus or presumptively diagnosed but unable to get a test, Amazon will now give that person extra paid time off. It’s also contacting people who are known to have been in close proximity with a diagnosed individual and giving them 14 days of paid time off so that they can isolate at home.

Anticipating that its current measures may need time to properly implement across its many sites, Clark cautioned that “there may be instances where we don’t get it perfect.”

A New York City-based Amazon workers group that’s been particularly vocal in its criticism of the company’s response to COVID-19 is yet to react to Amazon’s latest measures.

As the online shopping giant posted its plan of action, its strategy came under fire again after a Vice News report claimed that a recent top-level meeting at the company discussed a plan to smear one of its warehouse workers as part of efforts to undermine union activity. Amazon fired the employee on Monday after he played a key role in the strike at its Staten Island facility in protest at the company’s approach to protecting workers from COVID-19. Amazon insists he was shown the door for violating its quarantine rule after he came into contact with a worker infected with the virus.

Instacart’s actions

Instacart, meanwhile, said in a message posted on Thursday that it has been working with relevant health experts to get the best advice for its shoppers — the workers who pick and deliver groceries to customers.

The company said it has developed a new health and safety kit for its shoppers that includes face masks and hand sanitizer to protect against the spread of the virus, and a thermometer so they can check their condition if they fall ill. Shoppers will need to place an order for the kit, with availability starting next week.

Instacart is also launching a COVID-19 Resource Center to share the latest information about how it is responding to the coronavirus outbreak.

Labor group Gig Workers Collective described Instacart’s latest efforts as “a step in the right direction,” but added that they were still “a far cry from adequate.” It noted, for example, that hand sanitizer added recently to the company’s internal store for workers quickly sold out.

The collective also pointed out how workers in other industries who have proper personal protection equipment are still contracting the virus, describing the situation as a concern as “we are still without any sort of hazard pay, without accessible sick leave, without quarantine pay for those with a doctor’s note.”

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