Working At The Amazon Warehouse Was Always Painful. Now It’s Terrifying.

Even before the coronavirus hit, going to work at an Amazon warehouse already felt like I was risking my health. Standing on your feet for 12 hours at a time and performing repetitive motions while sorting boxes takes a toll on your body. By the middle of my shift, my joints throb with pain and sometimes my fingers become numb. I know my body is asking me to take a breather. But the clock doesn’t stop ticking, and I can’t make rate if I take a break.

In the first few weeks after COVID-19 came to New York City, the warehouse operated as usual. People started getting sick, and we knew it, but Amazon wasn’t giving us any information. The company said it sent people who were confirmed to have had contact with the virus home with pay, but most people who were sick weren’t able to get tested. And we know many people who were sent home still haven’t received pay. We kept working, standing next to each other on the floor of the sorting department, in the break room, and on the crowded buses taking us to the warehouse.

I have been out on medical leave for a few weeks, choosing not to go into work to protect myself and my family. Amazon let us have unlimited unpaid time off (UPT) last month, but that’s not an option anymore. We either have to go to work or quit, which would risk eligibility for unemployment.

I worry about catching the coronavirus when I go back to work. The company has now staggered our shifts, so there are fewer people. But there’s no real social distancing in the warehouse. We get gloves and masks, but we have to keep wearing them over and over again because the supply is nowhere near enough. When I get home from work, I jump in the shower right away, even before hugging my kids, because I don’t want to spread the virus. Amazon doesn’t pay me for the extra time it takes for me to sanitize everything that went to work with me, or the extra loads of laundry I am running to keep everything clean.

I am a single mom with two beautiful children. Right now, my kids are home from school. When I can afford to, I’ll pay for a babysitter — but mostly my 15-year-old takes care of my 2-year-old when I go to work. My shift is 12 hours, overnight Thursday through Sunday.

From my coworkers I organize with, I’ve heard that things are busier than ever in the warehouse. Every day during COVID-19 feels like the week before Christmas. Amazon is making a killing from this crisis. Almost literally. Jeff Bezos’s net worth has grown by more than $24 billion since the crisis started since everyone is at home trying to avoid going to the store and ordering everything online. But none of that money is going to workers. I have more expenses now than before, buying masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies; doing more laundry; paying for childcare; and trying to do everything I can to keep life as normal and happy as possible for my kids. And I don’t know what I’ll do if I get sick.