COVID-19

Demanding better COVID-19 protections, workers nationwide plan walkouts

Andy Uhler, David Brancaccio, and Alex Schroeder Mar 30, 2020
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Instacart employee Monica Ortega holds bags of groceries she picked up from a supermarket for delivery to a customer on March 19, 2020. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Demanding better COVID-19 protections, workers nationwide plan walkouts

Andy Uhler, David Brancaccio, and Alex Schroeder Mar 30, 2020
Instacart employee Monica Ortega holds bags of groceries she picked up from a supermarket for delivery to a customer on March 19, 2020. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
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Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, plan to strike Monday around 12:30 p.m. They’re demanding the facility be shut down and cleaned, and protesting the retail giant’s decision to keep it open after one staffer there tested positive for COVID-19.

Marketplace’s Andy Uhler has been following this story. The following is an edited transcript of his conversation with the Marketplace Morning Report’s David Brancaccio.

David Brancaccio: Amazon’s not the only company facing backlash from workers concerned about safe working conditions, is it?

Andy Uhler: That’s right. Amazon’s scale, and also the surge in people ordering even more stuff online in the era of social distancing means any disruption to their workflow would be a big deal. But a lot of workers are now voicing concern that companies aren’t doing enough to keep them safe from COVID-19. Workers at Instacart, the grocery shopping and delivery service, began a nationwide walkout in the United States today because they say that company isn’t doing enough to protect them or provide hazard pay. Instacart employs more than 150,000 workers across the U.S.

Brancaccio: And an Amazon subsidiary, Whole Foods, is also facing some backlash?

Uhler: Right. Whole Foods workers have a flyer circulating online indicating a plan to conduct a “sick-out” tomorrow. That would mean all employees would use a paid sick day to basically shut down stores. The workers assert that they’re putting themselves at risk by coming into work. They’re demanding three weeks’ paid time off for everyone, along with double hazard pay.

There’s even talk of a general strike in the U.S, calling on workers everywhere to walk off the job. #GeneralStrike began trending on Twitter over the weekend.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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