There have been four global recessions to date: 1975, 1982, 1991 and 2009 with 2020 currently being added to this list. The economic downfall that we are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic is predicted to exceed any of the previous recessions. Over ten million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in March alone. The number of jobs lost due to COVID-19 in the last two weeks is comparable to the total jobs lost over a span of two years during the Great Recession. The intense restrictions placed on businesses are leading to not only a deep but also long-lasting downturn in the economy. Every region of the world is experiencing this financial crisis. However, there is one business that seems to be booming during this cataclysm — Amazon.com, Inc.

People are lenient to spend money right now, but the money that is being spent is concentrated in online delivery businesses. While most companies are laying off employees, Amazon.com Inc. is expected to hire 100,000 new employees in order to meet the consumer demands for home deliveries. The convenience of having groceries, toiletries, dog food, etc., arriving at your doorstep is appreciable, especially during a pandemic.

However, convenience comes with a cost, and Amazon employees are paying the toll. 

While most of the world is motivating people to stay home and flatten the curve, Amazon is encouraging the opposite. The company raised wages $2 an hour and offered overtime at double the hourly rate. Instead of doing everything to protect its workers, Amazon is going against government shelter in place orders and jeopardizing employee health. At some locations, employees are working without masks, proper gloves, hand sanitizer or wipes, making Amazon warehouses playgrounds for the virus. More than 50 of their warehouses already have confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

The company informs its employees only after word has already leaked to the press about confirmed cases. Many employees walked off the job once they heard of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in their warehouse, leaving the remaining employees with twice as much work to do. Amazon employees have organized workplace walkouts and held protests outside the warehouses trying to prove that their health is just as essential as any package. 

Amazon agreed to pay for two weeks of sick time off for individuals that were diagnosed with the virus. Many employees who believed that they needed to self-quarantine due to compromised immune systems or because they had come in contact with others who tested positive were not eligible for this paid time off. Owing to this policy, many employees worked while exhibiting symptoms since they had to wait for their test results to receive the time off. These employees could have been spreading the virus abundantly throughout the warehouse for up to two weeks. Additionally, there is limited access to COVID-19 tests, making paid time off even less attainable. This policy has been mildly adjusted to accommodate employees who are caring for family members with COVID-19. 

The warehouse in Queens, New York, had the first publicly known case of COVID-19. The company shut down the warehouse for two days for cleaning, but employees returned to work as normal shortly after. Frustrations have risen among warehouse workers as they continue to move extraneous products. It is hard to comprehend that the company would risk the health of hundreds of thousands of employees to ship items such as puzzles or books.

The divide between what is essential and nonessential seems to be misinterpreted by Amazon headquarters. Home delivery orders are surging for all kinds of products and fulfilling these orders is asking workers to put themselves at risk. Corporate profit is being valued over employees during this public health crisis. Before placing a nonessential order, we must consider if the convenience is worth the cost.

Emily Ulrich can be reached at emulrich@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.