By Maya Campo
On March 12 Peel Public Health ordered Amazon to close its Brampton facility for two weeks and its workers to self-isolate for 14 days after it was determined that there was high-risk exposure to COVID-19 for everyone at the worksite. Amazon’s Brampton facility employs roughly 5,000 workers and has been the site of an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, with over 600 workers testing positive since October. Spring Magazine spoke with “Sara”, an Amazon Brampton worker, about the workplace outbreak and her experiences working at the facility.
Can you tell us what it is like to work at the Brampton Amazon facility, and what are the demographics of your workplace?
I work very long hours at Amazon; the shifts are 10 hours long. The work is physically exhausting, as you are on your feet all day with only two half an hour breaks. I am a sorter most of the time, and the work is incredibly repetitive and boring. We have to work at a fast pace to hit certain rates for packages to go out. The majority of people working there are of South Asian descent. There are more women employees than men.
Amazon has profited heavily from the pandemic, how has the pandemic affected Amazon workers?
Many workers have contracted COVID-19 due to the lack of restrictions placed in the warehouse. It has left workers under great stress as they are expected to come to work while others are able to stay safe and quarantine at home.
Working conditions have emerged as a key driver of the pandemic. Can you describe how your working conditions impact public health requirements like safe physical distancing?
Work conditions at the beginning were not safe and failed to keep under social distancing rules. Over time adjustments were made, but they did not improve anything in the long run. People are still able to interact at close proximities.
Since the pandemic, have you felt increasing pressure from managers to work at difficult speeds/perform too many tasks?
Depending on the workers’ position and the manager present at the time, there is heavy pressure to perform quickly. Some managers are worse than others, some throw all the work to their associates.
Can you describe the experience of working at a source of a major COVID outbreak, and what do you and your co-workers think of the shutdown?
It is definitely scary, and you don’t feel safe when people choose to not listen to distancing rules. There are people who go home to small children or elders that are at higher risks of catching COVID. The shutdown is definitely long overdue and should have happened when there were high numbers of COVID cases within the facility. We know that the shutdown is only happening because of the COVID tests being run by Peel Public Health around a year into this pandemic.
The Ford government, including Brampton Conservative MPPs, voted against legislating paid sick days. How has the lack of paid sick days affected the current outbreak, and how would legislating paid sick days improve working conditions?
Workers don’t have many options to turn to when they don’t feel safe enough to come into work due to the pandemic. Some may have parents or kids to take care of since the whole city went into lockdown and many resources are no longer available. Paid sick days would have helped many workers since it would provide them with money to help them stay afloat with all the chaos going around if they are not able to or don’t feel safe to come in to work.
How do you and your coworkers feel about Amazon arguing that the plant should not have been shut down, and should open back up immediately?
My coworkers and I feel that Amazon arguing that the plant should not have been shut down is a direct reflection of how little they care about their workers. Their response adds on a great deal of stress for my coworkers and I, and it shows just how profit centred they are.
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