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Amazon Prime Day 2020 sparks protests, 'Jeff, it's time to change the way you run your business,' experts says

Dania Rajendra of the Athena Coalition joins Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi to discuss Amazon workers and activists protesting conditions at Amazon warehouses.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: It's Amazon Prime Day. But for some workers and activists, that means protests. They're angry over the conditions at warehouses and are holding virtual and in-person demonstrations. With us now is Dania Rajendra, director of the Athena Coalition. It's a grassroots alliance against Amazon. Dania, good to see you this morning here. So why protest now, and what exactly do you have planned?

DANIA RAJENDRA: So Amazon's big in the news not just today, Prime Day, but last week. The congressional report took aim at how big Amazon has become not just in our economy, but in our democracy overall. People across the country, workers, their neighbors, are all concerned about the pandemic and about Amazon's growing power over our everyday lives.

ALEXIS CHRISTOPHOROUS: So if you had CEO Jeff Bezos in front of you right now, what would you say to him?

DANIA RAJENDRA: Jeff, it's time to change the way this business is run. It's got to be for everybody, not just for your billions.

BRIAN SOZZI: Dania, of course, Amazon is a public traded company. Those investors who have just minted money on Amazon, what do you say to them?

DANIA RAJENDRA: It's not too late to join the right side of history. Of course, people are relying on Amazon for goods and for stock returns. But that's why we've got shareholders. We've got customers. We've got workers. We've got neighbors. This is an everyone, all-hands-on-deck effort, and we welcome you.

ALEXIS CHRISTOPHOROUS: So look, the company has said it's implemented more than 150 what it calls process updates since the coronavirus outbreak, including social distancing requirements, enhanced cleaning. Has the company, to your mind, done enough to protect its workers?

DANIA RAJENDRA: So when workers tell me what it's like to work there, I believe them. And workers have been clear throughout the pandemic that a company worth more than $1 trillion just isn't spending what it can to protect everyday people and the people they know and love. So COVID exposure in an Amazon facility is absolutely a problem for the people who work there. It's a problem for all of our communities because of the way that the virus is spread. We think Amazon could absolutely be doing more to protect worker and public health. There is also the question of injury rates, which have been well-documented in the last couple of weeks as well.

BRIAN SOZZI: Dania, but also too, is it beyond just an Amazon problem? At the end the day, you have a lot of other retailers out there-- Walmart, Target, Costco, BJ-- they all operate big, giant warehouses. They have a ton of employees. Is there a broader problem here?

DANIA RAJENDRA: Well, Amazon, as the second-largest private sector employer in this country and as the dominant force in logistics, is really setting the pattern that other companies really are looking to. And so for that reason and Jeff Bezos's outsized wealth, we really think that they have an opportunity to lead around best practice. And we hope they start soon.

ALEXIS CHRISTOPHOROUS: We know that Washington has its sights on big tech. There has been talk about breaking up some of the larger tech companies. When you look at the election coming, is there an administration that you think would address some of the issues that you see at Amazon?

DANIA RAJENDRA: So what we're hoping from public leaders, from Washington to our local towns, is real leadership around protecting worker and community health. That includes pandemic solutions, but it also includes addressing the way in which Amazon pollutes the air around its facilities, the way in which the injury rates are just increasing, especially with big pushes like Prime Day. It's time for robust worker and community health protections. It's time to stop subsidizing the richest person on Earth. It's time to put community needs first. And we think that's possible from mayors of towns of all sizes up to whoever is president of the United States.

BRIAN SOZZI: Dania, earlier this month, Amazon said close to 20,000 workers have, in fact, contracted COVID-19. What steps can Amazon put in to prevent this from really spiraling out of control?

DANIA RAJENDRA: Well, we think that some common-sense stuff that workers have been asking for since even before the pandemic would help, certainly reducing the punishing rates of production that are expected inside those facilities. Providing everyone with adequate personal protective equipment throughout the delivery chain, so from the warehouses all the way to the person who brings the box to your door, would certainly be a good start. We're also very concerned about the way in which technology is being deployed inside Amazon warehouses to surveil workers as opposed to keep them safe.