John Oliver Skewers Amazon Over Employee Care Hypocrisy

"If we are depending on those workers for our survival and to a certain extent, our comfort, we owe them a lot in return," the HBO host says.
Courtesy of HBO
'Last Week Tonight'

John Oliver on Sunday went after Amazon in a segment on HBO's Last Week Tonight where he discussed the coronavirus pandemic and the essential workforce. 

Amazon is allowed to continue operation as the business provides essential products, but Oliver took exception to the hypocrisy he says the company has displayed in how it cares for its warehouse workers. 

Starting with an Amazon ad in which the company thanks its employee "heroes," Oliver skewered the company for its lack of care regarding both safety measures and benefits for those who contract the virus. 

"If you feel like you are not working in safe conditions, then it is even more infuriating to know the items you are packing can sometimes be anything but essential," Oliver said of reported concerns from employees. He then showed a news clip of an employee who was upset that his warehouse was still in operation even though it was completely out of "essential" items. He highlighted sex toys as not being essential. 

"If we are depending on those workers for our survival and to a certain extent, our comfort, we owe them a lot in return," Oliver said.

A spokesman for Amazon pushed back on the claims, telling The Hollywood Reporter via email, "We have implemented more than 150 significant process changes to support our teams including increasing rates of pay, adjusting time off and providing temperature checks, masks, gloves and other safety measures at our sites." 

Oliver also discussed Amazon's paid sick leave, which Congress recently mandated temporarily for smaller companies.

"Amazon's initial policy would give two weeks [of] paid time off for anyone whose been diagnosed with COVID or who has been quarantined, which sounds good, but there is a big problem with requiring a positive test," Oliver said.

The HBO host then showed a news clip of former employee Chris Smalls, who said it was nearly impossible to get a test in New York. Smalls, Oliver said, was later reportedly fired for leading a walkout over work-safety concerns at a Staten Island warehouse. (Amazon told THR Smalls’ employment was "terminated for putting the health and safety of others at risk"). Leaked notes from executives to the media showed the company planned to smear Smalls, Oliver noted. 

Oliver concluded his segment by saying, "And Amazon will say they have now made their sick leave policy more lenient for their 'heroes,' which is true. What's also true is that only came after they got letters from 14 state attorneys general saying their initial policy was inadequate to protect the public health." 

Oliver pointed out that the issue of sick leave is not just about Amazon, but a number of large companies.

Watch the entire segment below. 

10:45 a.m.: Updated with comments from Amazon.