Employees of Walmart, Target, Amazon and some of their subsidiary companies organized a mass "sick out" on Friday in protest of working conditions they deemed unsafe during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the frontline workers at these companies did not show up for work on Friday, and some spent their days at protests and rallies instead. The demonstrations were just the latest in a string of worker activism across the nation.
Workers from some of the biggest companies still operating through the coronavirus pandemic say that they are not being equipped to survive the crisis. They planned their strikes for Friday, May 1, a holiday that has long been used to honor workers around the world. The protesters had various demands for their employers based on what their job entails, but many wanted better personal protective equipment (PPE), expanded sick leave and better pay, according to a report by CBS News. In addition to retailers, workers for the grocery delivery service Instacart joined in.
It is unclear how many people took part in Friday's demonstrations and to what extent. According to NBC News, one organizer said that employees from over 100 different Target stores and distribution centers signed up. Other companies went unaccounted for, and since many workers stayed home for their safety through the protest, there were not many crowds to gauge.
"It's a matter of life and death," said organizer Christian Smalls. Smalls was fired from an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York after he organized a walkout there back in March. Amazon is still facing backlash from some for illegally dismissing Smalls for his activism, though the company reportedly claimed it was because he failed to comply with its social-distancing guidelines.
Smalls is not the only one to be fired under controversial circumstances recently, either. User experience designer Emily Cunningham said that she was fired two weeks ago after she criticized Amazon's policies on employee safety and climate change. She did her best to support her former colleague's digitally.
"Amazon is putting workers in an impossible situation where they have to choose between getting groceries and rent paid and potentially infecting themselves or others," she said. "Amazon is not giving out the number of cases, so workers don't know if it's 2,000 public cases, is it 200, is it 20? If Amazon has those numbers, it needs to say it."
Amazon has not disclosed exactly how many employees have tested positive for COVID-19 or what facilities it has been present in. The company released a statement saying that the organizers are being "irresponsible" by "spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon during this unprecedented health and economic crisis." Target added that demonstrators made up a "very small minority" of its workforce.