April 28 2020; The Intercept
“An unprecedented coalition of workers from some of America’s largest companies will strike on Friday,” reports Daniel Medina for The Intercept. Among the participating groups are Amazonians United, Target Workers Unite, Whole Worker, and the Gig Workers Collective.
“Workers from Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, and FedEx are slated to walk out on work,” Medina explains. “The employees will call out sick or walk off the job during their lunch break, according to a press release.”
Though health and safety amid the novel coronavirus pandemic are central to the dispute, this planned strike, as Medina observes, builds on many past actions. Since the pandemic began, we’ve seen a number of walkouts across the country, including:
- Amazon workers striking in New York City’s borough of Staten Island;
- A March 30th walkout of Instacart workers;
- A national sickout at Whole Foods on March 3rd;
- A walkout of an estimate 900 workers at a Colorado meatpacking plant; and
- A sanitation workers’ action in Pittsburgh in late March
Stephen Brier, a labor historian and professor at the School of Labor and Urban Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY), notes, “These workers have been exploited so shamelessly for so long. All of a sudden, they’re deemed essential workers in a pandemic, giving them tremendous leverage and power if they organize collectively.”
Medina indicates that worker coalition demands include the following:
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- Compensation for all unpaid time off used since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in March;
- Hazard pay or paid sick leave to be provided for the duration of the pandemic;
- Protective equipment and all cleaning supplies to be provided at all times by the company; and
- A demand for full corporate transparency on the number of cases in facilities.
The day for the worker action has been set for Friday, May 1st, International Workers Day. Although the US celebrates Labor Day in early September, the International Workers Day holiday actually traces its origins to Chicago and honors an 1886 march of tens of thousands who sought an eight-hour work day.
The action has been organized “over the last several weeks on Zoom calls and encrypted messaging apps like Telegram and Signal,” Medina reports.
It is unclear how significant the Friday work stoppage will be, but Medina indicates:
The Intercept spoke to 20 organizers from more than half a dozen states, reflecting the widespread nature of the strike. From Whole Foods workers in Boston to Instacart gig workers in Silicon Valley to Amazon warehouse organizers in Kentucky and Michigan, their stories and demands varied but together illustrated a pattern of corporate neglect toward workers now regarded as essential—alongside doctors, nurses, and EMT workers—during the coronavirus outbreak that has forced much of the nation into home lockdown.
“All of these workers are coming together and building power,” explains Vanessa Bain, an Instacart worker and co-founder of the Gig Workers Collective, which counts more than 17,000 members and advocates for gig workers’ rights. “May Day is not just a one-time symbolic action, but also about building real, vast, and broad sweeping networks of power.”—Steve Dubb