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COVID-19: Retail Workers Across Country Stage 'Sickout'

Essential workers across the country organized a "sickout"
Essential workers across the country organized a "sickout" Photo Credit: Target Workers Unite

Employees at some of the nation’s largest retailers are staging a one-day “sickout” strike on International Workers Day to protest conditions during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Hundreds of workers at Amazon warehouses, Target, Whole Foods, and employee shoppers at Instacart and Shipt called in sick on Friday, May 1 in protest of what they described as inadequate safety precautions during the pandemic.

According to Target Workers Unite!, which organized the sickout, “foot traffic and guest behavior have been atrocious, putting us at needless risk when greater safety measures are required to ensure social distancing. Workers nor guests have been required to wear masks.


“Our maximum capacity of guests have been set too high, their demeanor is also casual and reckless. They do not respect our space, they are not coming to our stores exclusively for essential items, but are occupying our stores out of boredom and for fun.”

Organizers of the protest said that workers’ pay and compensation are not adequate to cover the costs of hospitalization or funeral expenses related to COVID-19.

“The guests’ desire for recreation are not more important than team members’ needs for safety,” they said. “We’re calling on workers across other industries and across the nation to fight for our lives.”

It is unclear how many employees planned to participate in the one-day strike.

"The protective gear they've offered us is a joke, and the paid leave they've promised us is really hard to get, which many workers don't have health insurance and cannot afford to go to the doctor," Vanessa Bain, a lead organizer of the walkout, told Motherboard. "May Day is the day you don't go to work or buy things or pay rent," she added. "To consumers, we're saying: 'Don't buy from these companies on May 1. Don't empower them with your dollars.' That's what we need for an effective general strike."

In a statement, a spokesperson for Amazon said that “while we respect people’s right to express themselves, we object to the irresponsible actions of labor groups in spreading misinformation and making false claims about Amazon during this unprecedented health and economic crisis.”

Target and Amazon both raised wages by $2 an hour during the pandemic, expanded sick leave, and increased cleaning at facilities. But some of the policies have been temporary

Earlier this week, Target CEO Brian Cornell said on CBS This morning that, “we have put up plexiglass shields at the checkout lane as you’re checking out of our stores,” he said. “There are decals on the floors making sure people are keeping the six feet of space that is so necessary right now.”

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