Amazon plans to extend hazard pay for warehouse workers through the end of May, but it will return to normal pay rates in June, the company’s top operations executive told Recode in an interview on Tuesday. The decision comes as Amazon faces intense scrutiny from progressive politicians, activist groups, and its own workforce over its treatment of its front-line employees who have kept working during the coronavirus pandemic.
In mid-March, as the pandemic shut down businesses across the world that are deemed nonessential, Amazon started paying its warehouse and delivery employees in the US an additional $2 per hour as well as double overtime pay. It offered similar temporary pay increases for front-line staff in Canada, the UK, and some European countries.
“We’re going to do one more extension on it and push it out until the end of the month,” Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, told Recode.
When Amazon announced the first wage hike on March 16, it was set to run through the end of April. Amazon later extended the policy through May 16. Now the increases will end on May 31.
“We continue to see incredible demand from customers right now and … our team’s response in coming back to work has been really great as well,” Clark said. “We think it’s the right thing for employees and the right thing for customers to keep it on for a couple of weeks.”
Asked why the pay bump won’t continue into June, an Amazon spokesperson did not answer the question directly.
“This appreciation and pay incentive enabled us to deliver essential items to communities during these unprecedented times,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We are grateful to associates supporting customers during a time of increased demand, and are returning to our regular pay and overtime wages at the end of the month.”
Amazon’s return to regular pay comes as some US states have begun to open up nonessential businesses, but the country’s largest metro areas remain almost completely shut down. On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, warned that premature business openings could lead to new outbreaks. Some retailers like the grocery chain Kroger are ending bonus pay for front-line workers over the next few days, while Target is paying bonuses through the end of May and Walmart into June.
Amazon said last month that it would incur $4 billion in expenses related to Covid-19 between April and June because of wage increases, “investments in personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning of our facilities,” and other initiatives, including an in-house testing program for the virus. The company has argued that its pay and benefit programs, as well as the timing of its increased safety measures during the pandemic, compare favorably to its fellow retailers and other major US employers.
But critics, including some Amazon warehouse and corporate employees, have complained about flaws in the company’s pandemic response. Some employees say they are concerned about contracting the virus at work, that social distancing is not always possible in fulfillment centers, and that they want more information about confirmed cases at their respective facilities. And for corporate employees at Amazon, the biggest issue has been how the company fired several front-line and corporate employees who spoke out publicly about safety concerns.
In the highest-profile case, Amazon fired warehouse employee Christian Smalls hours after he led a small walkout at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, at the end of March. Amazon said Smalls was terminated for returning to the facility after the company had sent him home with pay to self-quarantine because he had been in close contact with a colleague who tested positive for Covid-19.
Smalls has denied violating social distancing warnings and believes he was targeted for his activism. Leaked notes from an Amazon leadership meeting fueled further outrage — including among Amazon’s corporate workers — when they revealed Amazon’s top lawyer referred to Smalls as “not smart, or articulate.”
Some employees and activist groups have also been upset by Amazon’s decision to end an unlimited unpaid time off policy it implemented in mid-March, as well as the planned end of hazard pay. Clark told Recode that employees have several other leave options despite the end of the unlimited unpaid time off policy, and that more than 10,000 of its front-line workers have used those options to take time off.
Working conditions inside Amazon’s warehouse network have long been a subject of controversy, but the pandemic has raised the stakes for workers, whom Amazon executives have referred to as “retail heroes.” When local governments are ordering tens of millions of Americans to remain home to try to slow the spread of the disease, Amazon warehouse and delivery workers have kept picking, packing, and delivering food, supplies, and other items to Amazon customers.