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Amazon warehouse workers say $500 coronavirus bonus is a joke

Amazon warehouse worker Sharo Sherif said she hasn’t gotten a paycheck since the beginning of May.

It’s not because she’s been fired, but because she had to quarantine after she had COVID-like symptoms, the 23-year-old told Digital Trends. Money is starting to run out.

Amazon announced this week that it would be sending every full-time worker a one-time bonus of $500 and every part-time worker $250 as part of their coronavirus relief efforts.

But that bonus won’t be enough for workers like Sherif to make ends meet, Amazon employees told Digital Trends.

“$500 doesn’t even cover my rent,” Sharif told Digital Trends. “I pay close to $600 [per month] right now.”

Sherif has been working for Amazon about two-and-a-half years, first in Columbus, Ohio, and then in the Shakopee warehouse in Minnesota, where 88 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Sherif said her test turned up negative, but then a family member passed away from COVID-19, and her roommate tested positive.

“I had to bring that into work with me,” she said. The warehouse managers said she isn’t allowed back without a doctor’s note.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in the Shakopee warehouse was worse than in the surrounding community, and the actual number of COVID cases in that warehouse is suspected to be higher than the reported numbers. Deep distrust has grown between the workers and the managers, with workers alleging the managers are keeping crucial health information from those on the line.

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment about its hazard pay plans or the allegations made by some workers.

The company previously upped all U.S. workers’ pay by $2; this bonus ended at the beginning of June. It also offered limited unpaid time-off options for those who got sick, and that ended at the beginning of June. Workers told Digital Trends that the company that workers are now expected to used their accrued time-off hours if they get sick.

“All we want is hazard pay, time-off that works, and transparency,” Tyler Hamilton, another worker at the same warehouse, told Digital Trends.

Hamilton, Sharif, and William Stoltz — another warehouse worker — all agreed it felt like Amazon was trying to pay off workers.

Instead of giving them proper hazard pay, the bonus would be an excuse to blunt the effect of a future walkout or strike, Hamilton alleged. The motivation was simple: Amazon needs staff to help fulfill its orders, and giving people too much time off will make it difficult to meet staffing goals, workers said.

Most Amazon workers, Stoltz said, live month-to-month. In a normal month, Hamilton said he makes around $2,000 working at the Shakopee warehouse. For him, $500 would cover one week off of work, if he was even allowed to take it.

Amazon’s leave policies are strict — a worker only has a certain number of paid and unpaid hours they’re allowed to take off in a quarter, and requests for leave can be turned down. If they go beyond that allowed number of hours, they will be terminated.

“It’s not nothing, money is money,” Hamilton said. “But it’s not enough. That won’t pay the rent or anything.”

Hamilton and Stoltz both compared the bonus to the Trump administration’s one-time $1,200 payments that were sent out in April. “It’s not good enough to have a one-time thing,” Hamilton said. “This isn’t a single event that’s happened. This is an ongoing crisis and it requires ongoing commitment.”

While Amazon has said it will still pay workers who need to take time off when they’re sick, Stoltz and Hamilton said they had heard of colleagues who had to take time off months ago, and still haven’t been paid.

Sherif said she hasn’t seen any money for the quarantine that Amazon has required her to take.

Stoltz told Digital Trends the $500 was equivalent to roughly two-and-a-half workdays, but not enough to recover from COVID-19 or quarantine without pay. Stoltz said he was saving up to “prepare for when I get the virus and have a long stretch without income.”

“I’ll have to cover bills and have no idea when Amazon is going to pay me,” he said.

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Maya Shwayder
I'm a multimedia journalist currently based in New England. I previously worked for DW News/Deutsche Welle as an anchor and…
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