What You Need To Know About The May Day General Strike

Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images.
You might know May Day as an ancient celebration marking the beginning of spring. But around the world today it’s more often known as International Workers’ Day — and though Americans don’t usually observe the occasion, this year essential workers across industries are joining together for a massive general strike. Nurses across 139 hospitals in 13 states are protesting a damning lack of PPE that is necessary for them to do their jobs safely.

A large component of the strike will include grocery store employees at companies like Amazon, Whole Foods, and Instacart, who already protested the conditions, hazard pay, and sick leave policy of the mega-billion-dollar company at the end of March. These workers will also be joined by those from Target, Walmart, Shipt, and FedEx, among others. The employees plan to walk off during their lunch break or call out sick. Workers are striking even as they worry about the risks of contracting or spreading COVID-19.
Senator Bernie Sanders expressed his support of the strike on Twitter:
One of the major concerns of Amazon workers is the company’s alleged lack of transparency in how many workers have been confirmed to have COVID-19. “This is 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,” reads a press release from workers who are striking.

Employees have been trying to track the number of cases across warehouses and stores. According to The Intercept, Amazon employee Jana Jumpp’s own calculation puts the number somewhere around 500, based on company communications, but believes the true number may be much higher.
Demands from Amazon workers are the following: transparency about positive cases; retroactive pay for any unpaid time off employees used in March; paid leave that begins immediately for employees who get tested for COVID-19, lasting until they receive a negative diagnosis; buildings with confirmed cases to be professionally sanitized and closed for 14 days; PPE and cleaning supplies; hazard pay and sick pay that lasts the duration of the pandemic; an extension of unlimited unpaid time off through June 1st, and bringing back employees who have been terminated after speaking out — such as Amazon warehouse worker Chris Smalls — or refusing to work under unsafe conditions. 

Throughout April, Amazon had a policy of unlimited unpaid time that workers could take without consequence on their attendance record. This policy has not been extended for May for Amazon workers. Whole Foods employees, according to an Amazon spokesperson, will have unlimited callouts until May 17th. Hazard pay for all employees will be extended through May 16th, but with no commitments yet that it will be guaranteed throughout the pandemic.
Amazon is now saying it’s providing gloves and masks to employees, which workers say hadn’t been the case throughout March. Costco became the first major retailer in the country to require customers to wear masks, providing some additional protection for workers who are often dealing with crowds all day. Amazon is now handing out masks to customers at store entrances, but has not yet required customers to wear masks at all times inside their stores.
Amazon workers are protesting for safer working conditions and sick pay during a time when everyone is calling them essential workers and heroes. The company has reportedly been using a heat map to keep an eye on unionizing activities, and has been accused of firing employees who express solidarity with striking workers
The strikes highlight the unequal ways in which the pandemic is affecting Americans. While essential workers fight for basic protections, CEO Jeff Bezos has in fact grown even richer from the surge in online sales and grocery deliveries due to COVID-19 — to the tune of $24 billion. A few days ago, activists painted a mural on the street near Bezos’ Washington, D.C., house that reads “PROTECT AMAZON WORKERS.” Amazon has made $75 billion in revenue in Q1 of 2020.
“Health and safety is our top priority and we expect to spend more than $800 million in the first half of the year on COVID-19 safety measures,” Amazon spokesman Timothy Carter told Refinery29. The company said it was “distributing face masks, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, implementing temperature checks, operating with strict social distancing protocols, and recognizing their contributions with additional pay and leading benefits.”
Target, Shipt, and Instacart workers are also demanding PPE, as well as hazard pay of $5 per order. Target and Shipt employees specifically are demanding that the 14-day paid sick leave policy should be offered to employees who are high risk or have a doctor’s note that recommends they stay home — not just to employees who have tested positive.
But it isn’t just workers who are protesting today. People are also gathering for a massive rent strike, particularly in cities like NYC and L.A. where affordable housing is a huge issue, demanding a freeze on rent during a time when 30 million Americans are suddenly unemployed. 
Politicians are lending their support to the movement. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has been a vocal supporter of the rent freeze. #CancelRent is currently trending on Twitter, and  Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has tweeted in support of it:
This spring promises to be unlike any other. As the COVID-19 death toll surpasses 60,000 people, Americans across the nation are standing up against the lack of compassion and basic respect shown by those in power, and asking everyone at home for solidarity.

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