Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos visited one of his company’s warehouses as well as a Whole Foods grocery store on Wednesday, making rare public appearances as employees have raised complaints about working conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Bezos, donning skinny jeans, a slim-fit button down shirt and a face mask, toured an unspecified Amazon warehouse and a Whole Foods supermarket in a video posted to Twitter by the company’s PR account.
In the 47-second video, the richest man in the world — who currently holds a net worth just shy of $125 billion, according to Forbes — greets employees and thanks them for their hard work.
“I like your mask,” the billionaire told a Whole Foods clerk working an aisle. “I can’t shake your hand — it’s a hard habit to break,” he told another.
The video immediately drew barbs from Twitter users. “Does Amazon ease up on the nearly impossible work rates & quotas when Jeff stops by?” one user replied. “Aww that’s nice,” replied another. “How about giving these hard workers a raise or a bonus?”
The video comes just days after Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse was hit with its second labor protest in as many weeks.
Workers at the Bloomfield distribution center, called JFK8, walked out of the distribution center to protest the company’s handling of the virus amid complaints that 25 people there have tested positive for the deadly illness. Amazon disputed the numbers.
That rally came exactly a week after dozens of employees held a protest spearheaded by management assistant Christopher Smalls — who was later fired by Amazon.
In NYC, some 40 elected officials, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, fired off a letter to Bezos on April 1, calling for Smalls’ rehiring and for Amazon to implement COVID-19 safety protocols and paid leave.
“We write in support of your own workers calling for you to CLOSE Amazon warehouses until you put into place real solutions — with independent monitors — to protect your workers and the public in this moment of public health crisis,” according to the letter.
Amazon warehouses in Detroit and Chicago — two hotbeds of the coronavirus pandemic in the US — have also seen labor protests.
Amazon is taking employees’ temperature at its warehouses and sending home anyone with a temperature of 100F or more, it has said in a blog post.
The company last month said that it would hire 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers in the United States to deal with a surge in online orders, and pledged to add $2 to its minimum $15 per hour to US workers’ wages through April.
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