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People's World - April 30, 2020

Dangerous pandemic-caused working conditions at warehouses, in the “gig economy,” and at big box stores are forcing tens of thousands of workers at six large firms – Amazon, Walmart, FedEx, Target, Instacart, Shipt, and Whole Foods – into a walkout during their lunch breaks on May 1. Depending upon the final totals who walk out, it would be the largest U.S. job action in decades.

“Shut down AMAZON, these facilities have positive cases unsafe working environments infecting thousands!” tweeted Christian Smalls, the ex-warehouse assistant supervisor who led a mid-March walkout from an Amazon warehouse in New York over lack of protection against the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. and killed more than 60,000 so far.

That was Smalls’s second tweet to @Shut_down Amazon. “It’s time to join up! Protect all workers at all cost we are not expandable or replaceable enough is enough TAKE THE POWER BACK!” he tweeted before. True to form, anti-union, anti-worker Amazon fired Smalls the afternoon of that walkout, then tried to peddle a trumped-up excuse that his lack of protection threatened his colleagues.

He’s now one of the top organizers of the lunchtime walkout, along with workers at Shipt (Wally Solis), Instacart (Vanessa Bain) and Whole Foods. Social media sites for the three organizers, plus one for Whole Foods workers as a group, have information on the walkout.

“This a matter of life or death, but companies like Amazon have not been transparent or honest with workers, the media, or the public about the number of cases in their facilities,” their release said. When cases in one Amazon warehouse hit double digits, the company stops releasing a count and just refers to “additional cases,” the release added.

Amazon alone has 174 warehouses full of workers, and Walmart is the largest private sector employer in the U.S. The big bosses of those two – Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and the Walton family – are fabulously rich, and are gaining money and garnering profits from goods and services provided in the pandemic. They are aggressively and often illegally anti-union.

Walmart routinely fires workers who band together for their rights. Its lack of protection has led its workers to walk, too.

“Enough is enough,” Walmart worker Jessie Metcalfe of Colorado told United4Respect, a leading worker group at the monster retailer.

“Walmart executives are so removed from the reality of what’s happening in their stores that they don’t understand: Our customers can’t be served if associates are out sick. What makes it more frustrating, and even scarier, is Walmart is keeping us in the dark about the potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases.”

“Because of the failings of our employers, many of our fellow employees have contracted this deadly virus and some have died,” strike organizers said in a press release. “Although there have been some changes in company policies, they are not enough to adequately protect us.”

Besides lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), the corporate giants also deny workers paid sick leave, refuse to disclose coronavirus cases, don’t enforce social distancing, won’t top up salaries with hazardous duty pay and charge so much for health insurance – while paying workers so little – that they can’t afford it.

And a large share, if not an outright majority, of workers for the big firms are people of color, many of them already on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Colorado public health officials shut down a Walmart supercenter in Aurora after the coronavirus killed one worker and after both workers and customers complained about the threat. The coronavirus recently killed another Walmart warehouse worker in the Chicago area, United4Respect added. Overall, at least 2,000 Walmart workers have sickened and at least 20 have died.

The firm’s performance is so bad – not providing PPE, refusing to let workers bring their own, refusing to follow social distancing guidelines, refusing hazardous duty pay and refusing to disclose cases – that United4Respect set up its own Walmart coronavirus case tracker two days before.

The giant corporations protest they have done enough, despite the lack of PPE, social distancing and other ways to protect workers and customers against community spread of the coronavirus.

Walmart, true to form, also targets what it calls “union misinformation” about working conditions. Unions involved in the crusade to organize the vicious low-paying monster retailer are not involved in the planned walkout.