Warehouse workers were among the group of front-line workers that were hailed as heroes at the beginning of the Covid-10 pandemic.
Workers in warehouses and distribution centres across Canada helped keep food on the shelves and ensured the delivery of PPEs and other vital medical supplies. They kept the flow of goods moving, helping our economy avoid a total collapse.
Despite various supply chain issues, many warehouse workers kept working throughout the pandemic, and in many cases, their workload and hours increased.
At the same time we were celebrating their work, the warehouse workers themselves were placed in an extraordinary vulnerable position in terms of their own health and safety. A number of warehouses across the country saw outbreaks, and more likely went unreported.
In the US, the company reported in October 2020 that 20,000 Amazon employees across the country had reported positive for Covid-19.*
After months of rising case numbers and worker complaints to health officials and the media, three Amazon warehouses in and around the GTA were partially closed by public health officials in April and May 2021 due to Covid-19 outbreaks.** As noted in a subsequent analysis,
Low wages in these workplaces often leave workers living paycheque to paycheque. Taking a day off work might mean that your kids go without food or that you can’t make rent at the end of the month. Newcomers and temporary workers fear that calling in sick could cost them their jobs. Employers have incentivized workers to show up sick. During the winter rush in December 2020, Amazon told workers that were ill that they should stay home. At the same time, Amazon promised a $1000 weekly cash draw for workers with perfect attendance, undercutting their claim that they were urging sick workers to remain at home.***
“Naturally, health care workers and other emergency service workers attracted much praise and attention for their courage and sacrifices – demonstrated in nightly community demonstrations of support (applause and pot-banging). But as Canadians self-isolated at home, they depended completely on continued services provided by retail stores, delivery drivers, and on-line warehouse workers. So most people also came to better appreciate the dedication and challenges faced by workers in these supposedly “menial” jobs.”
*** Catherine Carstairs and Ravnit Dhinsa. “COVID-19 and Warehouse Work: The Making of a Health Crisis in Peel Region.” ActiveHistory.ca University of Saskatchewan and Huron University College. (June 24, 2021). (from http://activehistory.ca/2021/06/covid-19-and-warehouse-work-the-making-of-a-health-crisis-in-peel/).
**** Jim Stanford. “10 Ways the Covid-19 Pandemic Must Change Work for Good.” Centre for Future Work and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (June 2020). (from https://centreforfuturework.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/10Ways_work_must_change.pdf).