Previous walkouts have done little to improve employee conditions. Will this one be different?

By Mike Pomranz
April 30, 2020
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Photo: Robi_J/Getty Images

A loose coalition of independent worker groups from Whole Foods, Target, Instacart, Amazon, and similar companies are calling for another strike—this time on Friday, May 1—to protest what have been deemed unsafe conditions faced by essential employees during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially as coronavirus restrictions begin to lift, potentially further increasing risk to worker safety.

Since the strike isn’t organized by any one official union, it’s being referred to by a number of names and hashtags. Whole Worker—which previously encouraged Whole Foods employees to call out sick on March 31—is once again calling this event a “Sickout” as part of #EssentialWorkersDay—timed to coincide with International Workers Day. A group called Target Workers Unite is also calling for a “Mass Sickout” with the hashtag #Strike4OurLives. Meanwhile, reporter Michael Sainato shared a number of posts on Twitter including one referring to the event as the “Mayday General Strike” with #generalstrike2020 and others that demonstrated additional support from workers at places like Trader Joe’s and Shipt. The Intercept reported that participants have also committed to join from other well-known brands like Walmart and FedEx, too.

Due to the nature of these calls, specific demands are hard to pin down but the overarching message is that these workers want improved safety measures, including better access to PPEs, and better pay and health insurance that reflects the additional hazards their jobs now entail.

However, what is once again not clear is how many people will actually be participating in this strike and what sort of impact those strikers will be able to have across so many fronts. After Whole Workers’ March 31 Sickout, Whole Foods Market dismissed the protest with a statement saying, “It is disappointing that a small but vocal group, many of whom are not employed by Whole Foods Market, have been given a platform to inaccurately portray the collective voice of our 95,000+ Team Members who are heroically showing up every day to provide our communities with an essential service. So far today we have seen no changes to overall absenteeism and we continue to operate all of our stores without interruption.”

Whole Worker itself seemed to acknowledge the need to improve, writing that they “gathered feedback from our last action and implemented […] changes in our organizing strategy.” And obviously, the simple fact that another strike is necessary with nearly identical demands would seem to demonstrate that work is left to be done.

So will tomorrow be different? “It’s more powerful when we come together,” Chris Smalls told Vice’s Motherboard. Smalls, who is a lead organizer of this new strike, was controversially fired from Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center. “We formed an alliance between a bunch of different companies because we all have one common goal which is to save the lives of workers and communities.”