This Black Friday and Cyber Monday, frontline essential workers will be hustling to help holiday shoppers — while also fighting for dignity, hazard pay, and other protections as Covid-19 infection rates spike again in many regions.
Rina Cummings, who works at the JFK8 Amazon Warehouse on Staten Island, feels like the billionaire owners are sending this essential workforce into the viral line of fire.
When she learned that the personal fortune of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had increased by $70 billion since the start of the pandemic, Cummings had just finished her ten-hour shift and was about to do another hour of MET (Amazon-speak for “Mandatory Extra Time”).
She remembers her response: “Jeez, maybe they could afford to give us facemasks that reach our ears and don’t fall apart the moment they come out of the wrapper. What a piece of crap!”
Amazon is one of the “Delinquent Dozen” featured in a new report, Billionaire Wealth vs. Community Health,” by Bargaining for the Common Good, the Institute for Policy Studies, and United for Respect. At these 12 corporations, owners and executives have reaped billions under the pandemic while their workers have struggled. As a whole, U.S. billionaires have enjoyed an increase in their personal fortunes of nearly $1 trillion since Covid-19 struck in March.
Back in 2018, when Cummings heard Amazon was coming to Staten Island, she jumped at the opportunity to work there.
“I totally drank the Kool-Aid,” she said. “I thought it was a great company. I even gave a little speech at work where I said I hoped my son would grow up and be like Jeff Bezos.”
But after six months, she started to see things differently.
“It was like The Matrix — and I took the pill that revealed the whole scary truth of how they squeeze their workers for every nickel,” Cummings said.
She soon connected with organizers at Make the Road NY and New York Communities for Change and began leading organizing efforts at the Amazon JFK8 plant. These groups, part of the larger United for Respect coalition, are pressing for hazard pay, paid family leave, and the creation of workplace health councils. They are also calling on lawmakers and the incoming Biden administration to legislate an Essential Worker Bill of Rights.