Millions of white-collar workers are telecommuting from home to stay safe as the coronavirus extends its terrifying reach across America. But millions of other workers — supermarket cashiers, pharmacists, warehouse workers, bus drivers, meatpacking workers — still have to report to work each day, and many are furious that their employers are not doing enough to protect them against the pandemic.
Some companies are not providing their workers with gloves or hand sanitizer, and some are even prohibiting employees from wearing masks for fear of frightening customers. Many workers feel they’re putting their lives on the line each day by interacting with customers who might be infected and by working in places they’re convinced have not been adequately sanitized against the virus.
Fearing retaliation, American workers are generally far more reluctant to stick their necks out and protest working conditions than are workers in other industrial countries. But with greater fear of the disease than of their bosses, workers have set off a burst of walkouts, sickouts and wildcat strikes.
With their employer’s business booming, workers at Instacart, the grocery delivery service, have called for a strike on Monday, demanding that the company provide hazard pay and more personal protective supplies. Workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island threatened a walkout on Monday if the company did not close the building and thoroughly clean it after several workers tested positive.
Last Tuesday, after a mechanic tested positive for the coronavirus, more than half the workers at Bath Iron Works, a shipyard in Maine, stayed home from work to pressure their employer to thoroughly clean the shipyard. Workers walked out at a Fiat Chrysler truck plant in Warren, Mich., because there was no hot water for washing up. Bus drivers in Birmingham, Ala., went on strike because they felt not enough was being done to protect them from contracting the coronavirus from infected passengers, and bus drivers in Detroit staged a sudden sickout for the same reason. Sanitation workers in Pittsburgh engaged in a work stoppage over their coronavirus worries.
“We want better equipment, protective gear. We have no masks,” one of the sanitation workers told the television station WPXI. “We want hazard pay. Hazard pay is very important.”
At a Kroger warehouse in Memphis, 200 workers walked out after learning that a co-worker had the virus.
“The ones that is here, they so tense they scared to touch the equipment,” said Maurice Wiggins, a Kroger forklift driver and father of two. (He also said he is being forced to work a 97-hour, seven-day workweek.)
These workers are demanding what everyone else wants during the worst epidemic in a century — safety. They feel their companies are taking them and their safety for granted, and they don’t want to risk their lives for a paycheck, often a meager one. Many workers are angry that while their employers are doing a lively business, they haven’t given them raises or hazard pay, which some other companies have provided.