2020 United States essential workers general strike

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2020 United States essential workers general strike
DateMay 1, 2020 – ongoing
Caused by
  • COVID-19
  • Lack of hazard pay
  • Need for protective equipment
  • Insufficient sick-leave
  • Increase hazard pay
  • Stricter cleaning and social distancing measures
  • Protective masks, gloves, hand sanitizer
  • More expansive sick-leave policies
Lead figures
Target Workers Unite
Amazonians United
Whole Worker
Gig Workers Collective
Whole Foods

On May 1, 2020, essential workers at Amazon, Instacart, Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods organized a nationwide strike over lack of safety precautions, hazard pay, and benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. The date of the strike correlated with International Workers' Day, an international day to celebrate and recognize organized labor. It was part of a wave of strikes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Origins and overview[edit]

The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has led to the highest number of total infections and deaths of any other country on Earth, although per capita it is not the highest. The pandemic has caused the unemployment rate to skyrocket from roughly 2 percent of the workforce to nearly 18 percent of the workforce, higher than the Great Recession of 2008, but lower than the peak of the Great Depression in 1933. Many employers for non-essential work have shifted to teleworking to avoid infections in office environments at the suggestion of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). By the end of March 2020, all 50 states in the U.S. had confirmed cases and deaths and had initiated stay-at-home orders.

Despite these warnings, jobs deemed "essential" for the function of society required employees to report to work amidst the pandemic. This included various healthcare, grocery and home supplies retail chains. Various workers at home supplies and grocery chains had initially complained that customers were not practicing social distancing recommendations, and that companies were not adequately providing the necessary equipment and financial security needed to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus, nor have enough of a safety net to stay home should they become infested with the virus.[1]

Unions have said in numerous statements that the inadequate preparations by these companies to make employees safe has led to higher illnesses and deaths from COVID-19. The United Food and Commercial Workers union said 72 of its members have died and more than 5,000 are not at work due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19.[2]


Several labor unions provided support to these strikes including the AFL-CIO, Target Workers Unite,[3] UFCW, and the IWW.


Adam Ryan, a liaison in Virginia for Target Workers Unite stated that the demands for Target workers included sick time off, hazard pay, limited customer access, and a shift towards pick up only for items at stores.[4] Despite the concessions the company has made, Ryan and workers for TWU have stated that these concessions are not enough given that employees were already promised raises, and the paid time off does not pertain to every employee.[4]



Several high-profile politicians including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont[2][5] and Kamala Harris of California express solidarity with the workers.[6]


Amazon spokesperson, Av Zammit said that despite these strikes, the company is still functioning and that business has not been impacted by the sickouts across the county. Zammit said on the sickouts "the fact is that today the overwhelming majority of our more than 840,000 employees around the world are at work as usual continuing to support getting people in their communities the items they need during these challenging times."[4] Zammit also said that the company has undertaken intense procedures to keep the workplaces sanitized. Specifically, he stated that Amazon expects to spend more than $800 million in the first half of the year on COVID-19 safety measures, such as company-provided face masks, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.[4] Amazon also announced that it intends to spend its entire second quarter profit, approximately $4 billion, on safety equipment for workers.[4]


In reaction to the strikes, and throughout the pandemic, Target has announced that it intends to spend at least $300 million on coronavirus-related expenses. This included higher wages, hazard pay, child care, paid sick leave for older and immunocomprised workers.[4]

Major events[edit]

Several major gatherings pertaining to the strike occurred in Staten Island,[7][8] near what many consider is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Additional cities where major strike action occurred included Los Angeles,[9] and Richmond, Virginia.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Neuman, Scott (May 1, 2020). "Essential Workers Plan May Day Strikes; Others Demand End To COVID-19 Lockdowns". NPR. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Sollenberger, Roger. "Essential workers across the U.S. went on strike today — here's why". Salon. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  3. ^ Cook, Christopher D. (April 30, 2020). "Get Ready for Mass Strikes Across the U.S. This May Day". In These Times. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Repko, Melissa (May 1, 2020). "'Companies are failing workers,' Target employee says on day of planned protest". CNBC. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  5. ^ Kim, Whizy (May 1, 2020). "What You Need To Know About The May Day General Strike". Refinery29.com. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  6. ^ Knight, Bill (27 May 2020). "'Essential workers' deserve more". Canton Daily Ledger. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  7. ^ Ortiz, Erik (May 1, 2020). "Target, Walmart workers and others plan 'sickout' protests over coronavirus safety". NBC. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  8. ^ Tiku, Nitasha; Lerman, Rachel (May 1, 2020). "Amazon, Instacart workers launch May Day strike to protest treatment during the coronavirus pandemic". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  9. ^ Weber, Christopher (May 1, 2020). "Essential workers to strike May 1 over working conditions". KBAK. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  10. ^ "Amazon, Whole Foods and Instacart workers organizing historic strike". Richmond Times-Dispatch. April 30, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2020.

Further reading[edit]