By Jeffrey Dastin
(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc said on Wednesday a handful of workers staged a demonstration at one of its warehouses near Detroit, another U.S. protest this week over staff concerns about contracting the novel coronavirus on the job.
Amazon said fewer than 15 of more than 4,000 employees at its Romulus, Michigan fulfillment center participated; one of the action’s organizers said 40 people joined in. The demonstration, which came after a worker there tested positive for the virus, has not impacted fulfillment of customer orders, Amazon said.
The news reflects the operational risks facing the world’s largest online retailer if more workers contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and if their peers quit in protest.
Earlier this week, 15 employees at an Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York joined a walkout, and dozens more went on strike at a company facility near Florence, Italy.
Amazon fired the organizer of the New York walkout after he allegedly put others at risk by violating a company request to stay at home for two weeks, a dismissal that prompted the city to open an investigation. The organizer had had close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.
In response, the AFL-CIO, several other unions and New York elected officials on Wednesday sent a letter to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, calling for the worker’s reinstatement and for warehouse closures with full pay for staff.
Near Detroit, those protesting demanded that Amazon shut down the facility for additional cleaning and cover all medical bills for associates and their family members who contracted the virus from the site, according to a Facebook live stream of the demonstration.
“I feel it’s going to take someone to die for them to finally take action,” protest co-organizer Mario Crippen, 26, said.
Crippen said 40 employees walked off the job. Amazon did not immediately comment on the discrepancy between its tally and Crippen’s.
Earlier on Wednesday, the company said it has taken “extreme” measures to protect workers, “tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances.”
Amazon has deployed an additional 45 million wipes and more than 50,000 hand sanitizers to facilities, it said.
Cases of COVID-19, which has led to more than 45,000 deaths globally, have been reported from at least 19 of Amazon’s U.S. warehouses.
(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker)