Logistics workers logging shifts in stores, warehouses, and truck cabs during the coronavirus crisis are starting to feel the strain of reporting to jobs that have been deemed “essential,” even as many other businesses close their doors and send employees home to shelter from possible Covid-19 infection.
For example, some workers abandoned their posts yesterday at the grocery delivery company Instacart and at a New York City amazon.com inc. warehouse, according to published reports. Saying they are frightened of contracting the deadly virus, they are asking for changes such as wage raises, paid sick leave, and protective gear.
And on Monday, the powerful Teamsters union called on tech firms like Apple and Tesla to provide better protections for their employees working in exposed conditions. San Francisco-based Teamsters Joint Council 7 represents more than 1,000 shuttle bus drivers who transport employees of those large firms from dense residential areas to suburban factories.
Reactions from corporate employers vary, with Walmart saying it is now offering free health screenings, paid sick leave, and hourly wage increases. Amazon says it has rolled out enhanced cleaning protocols, posted visual reminders of the need to practice social distancing, and offered two weeks paid sick leave for employees diagnosed with Covid-19. And cargo facilities like the Port of Virginia and the Georgia Ports Authority have been screening workers when they check in for shifts, checking their temperatures and sending people with symptoms home.
Retailers and warehouses associated with the grocery and pharmaceutical sectors have some of the greatest rates of exposure to potential coronavirus infection, since crowds of shoppers visit their facilities every day. In response, some stores have begun installing plexiglass screens around cash registers and checkout counters. Screen vendors such as APG Cash Drawer say its “Guardiant Countertop Shield” is built to help reduce the spread of contagious, airborne germs commonly caused by coughing or sneezing. Already visible in virus hot-spot regions such as New York City, the shields are intended for installation at retail, grocery, convenience, gas stations, pharmacy, and medical clinics.
However, plastic shields and disinfectant wipes are far more difficult to deploy at sprawling worksites like maritime ports and terminals, which are also deemed “essential” for their role in keeping global trade flowing in response to the spread of Covid-19.
The coronavirus is now exerting “unprecedented pressure” on the supply chains that play a crucial role in the global economy and the livelihoods of people everywhere, according to industry group the Port Equipment Manufacturers Association (PEMA). “Despite exceptionally challenging circumstances, the world’s ports and terminals continue to operate wherever feasible,” PEMA said in a release. “Ships, trucks and trains are being loaded and unloaded around the clock, ensuring that food, drugs and medical equipment are supplied, and that other vital products, machinery and raw materials reach their destinations.”
Likewise, transportation and third-party-logistics (3PL) giant C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. said last week that its 78,000 contract carriers are still working to transport essential goods such as food, water, and life-saving medical supplies. C.H. Robinson said it is supporting those workers by providing financial relief and providing better working conditions, through a program of providing fuel discounts, advocating to keep rest and truck stops open, and making donations to truckers’ financial assistance charity the St. Christopher’s Fund.
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