Warehouse Workers Suspect Amazon’s Promise of PTO for Part-Time Employees Is a Bait-and-Switch

Rebecca Burns March 25, 2020

Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos presents the company's first smartphone, the Fire Phone, on June 18, 2014 in Seattle, Washington (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

In the midst of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, Ama­zon has rolled out a new pol­i­cy that extends paid time off to thou­sands of part-time oper­a­tions employees.

The change fol­lows a months-long cam­paign by work­ers in Amazon’s last-mile deliv­ery sta­tions to demand PTO, tout­ed in the company’s pub­lic com­mu­ni­ca­tions as an essen­tial” ben­e­fit offered to all its work­ers. After being told that a spe­cial clas­si­fi­ca­tion made them inel­i­gi­ble, work­ers at Sacramento’s DSM1 deliv­ery sta­tion launched a peti­tion demand­ing the same ben­e­fits as oth­er part-time employ­ees and staged a walk­out in Decem­ber. Work­ers at deliv­ery sta­tions in Chica­go and Queens took up the call ear­li­er this year, and more than 4,300 Ama­zon employ­ees nation­wide signed on.

On March 20, deliv­ery work­ers cel­e­brat­ed after receiv­ing a manager’s update” that reads, We are excit­ed to announce that Ama­zon will offer paid-time off ben­e­fits to all our reg­u­lar part-time and sea­son­al employ­ees in the Unit­ed States work­ing in the [Oper­a­tions] network.

But some employ­ees are hold­ing their applause.

It’s still unclear how the pol­i­cy will apply in local­i­ties that already require paid sick leave. Chica­go-area Ama­zon work­ers who say they pre­vi­ous­ly caught the com­pa­ny break­ing local sick-leave law sus­pect the com­pa­ny is now try­ing to pull a bait-and-switch.

Work­ers at Chicago’s DCH1 deliv­ery sta­tion say they cur­rent­ly accrue 15 min­utes of paid sick time per 8 hours worked, a rate slight­ly above what’s required by local law. Over the week­end, mem­bers of the group DCH1 Ama­zo­ni­ans Unit­ed asked an area man­ag­er to con­firm whether they would receive PTO on top of exist­ing sick leave. They say they were told that they would accrue both, sep­a­rate­ly, until June 1. At that point, sick time would dis­ap­pear,” and they would con­tin­ue rack­ing up PTO: at the same rate they do now.

What we heard from man­age­ment is that from now, up until May 31, what we’re going to get is our exist­ing sick time, and addi­tion­al­ly PTO at the same rate,” said Ted Miin, a Chica­go Ama­zon employ­ee and mem­ber of DCH1 Ama­zo­ni­ans Unit­ed. Come June 1, sick time will dis­ap­pear and we’ll be back to 15 min­utes accru­ing every 8 hours.”

An inter­nal announce­ment at the facil­i­ty, pro­vid­ed to In These Times, appears to con­firm this. PTO and sick time will con­tin­ue to accrue,” it reads. In June it will com­bine and sick time buck­et on HUB will dis­ap­pear.” (HUB refers to the online sys­tem where employ­ees can track their avail­able paid and unpaid time off.)

This wouldn’t be the first time that Chica­go work­ers were burned. In 2018, the fine print of Ama­zon’s $15 min­i­mum wage announce­ment con­tained a trade-off for ware­house work­ers: They lost month­ly bonus­es and stock awards. 

As a result, the Amazon’s lat­est announce­ment was met with cau­tion. A lot of our co-work­ers were skep­ti­cal from the start,” said Miin. They thought, OK, what are we giv­ing up. We need the details.’”

Ama­zon did not respond to a request for com­ment about the new PTO policy.

Accord­ing to Miin, Ama­zon is mak­ing a few con­ces­sions to moti­vate work­ers who are des­per­ate and poor to keep com­ing into the ware­house and putting them­selves at risk. But once we get this, we’re not going to let them take it away.”

To meet soar­ing demand from home-bound con­sumers, Ama­zon last week announced plans to hire 100,000 addi­tion­al ware­house employ­ees. The online-retail giant is also rais­ing work­ers’ pay by $2 an hour through April, cre­at­ing a $25 mil­lion hard­ship fund and grant­i­ng two weeks of paid sick leave to any­one diag­nosed with COVID-19.

Those changes fall short of demands out­lined in a peti­tion for coro­n­avirus pro­tec­tions from Ama­zon, includ­ing time-and-a-half pay, child­care pay and sub­si­dies for work­ers impact­ed by school and day­care clo­sures, paid sick leave with­out a require­ment for pos­i­tive diag­no­sis, and com­plete facil­i­ty shut­downs in order to san­i­tize ware­hous­es where work­ers test pos­i­tive for COVID-19.

Last week, a Queens deliv­ery hub reopened the day after an employ­ee test­ed pos­i­tive, the first con­firmed case of COVID-19 at a U.S. Ama­zon facility.

Work­ers say that the stan­dard pre­cau­tions — stand at least six-feet apart, wash your hands fre­quent­ly, avoid touch­ing sur­faces that might be con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed — are almost impos­si­ble to fol­low inside crowd­ed facil­i­ties. The vol­ume of pack­ages they’re han­dling has peaked, and the goods they’re mov­ing are heavier.

At the same time that they’ve been telling us to work more safe­ly and san­i­tize our sta­tions, they’ve raised pro­duc­tiv­i­ty quo­tas,” said a work­er at the Queens facil­i­ty sta­tion who asked to remain anony­mous. Some peo­ple still have trou­ble hit­ting them even if they’re not wash­ing their hands, and they’re not giv­ing us extra time to wash our hands.”

Chica­go Ama­zon employ­ees have set up a mutu­al aid fund to sup­port work­ers who they say are strug­gling to make ends meet dur­ing the crisis.

While Ama­zon has pub­licly announced a pol­i­cy to give work­ers sick/​quarantine pay, sev­er­al of our cowork­ers under CDC-advised self-quar­an­tine due to med­ical sta­tus or recent trav­el are still get­ting the run-around by Ama­zon and have thus far not been able to get that pay,” they write on the page. We will fight until we get it, but in the mean­time funds are run­ning low for med­i­cine, food, baby sup­plies, and rent.”

Last week, Sen­a­tors Cory Book­er (D‑N.J.), Bob Menen­dez (D‑N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.) and Sher­rod Brown (D‑Ohio) wrote a let­ter to Jeff Bezos, urg­ing him to grant work­ers sick leave and haz­ard pay. The let­ter also pos­es ques­tions about pre­cau­tions Ama­zon is tak­ing, with a March 26 dead­line to respond.

Any fail­ure of Ama­zon to keep its work­ers safe does not just put their employ­ees at risk, it puts the entire coun­try at risk,” the sen­a­tors wrote in the let­ter. Amer­i­cans who are tak­ing every pre­cau­tion … might risk get­ting infect­ed with COVID-19 because of Amazon’s deci­sion to pri­or­i­tize effi­cien­cy and prof­its over the safe­ty and well-being of its workforce.”

Rebec­ca Burns is an award-win­ning inves­tiga­tive reporter whose work has appeared in The Baf­fler, the Chica­go Read­er, The Inter­cept and oth­er out­lets. She is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at In These Times. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @rejburns.
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