The workers at Amazon's fulfillment center on Staten Island, known as JFK 8, said their walkout was a last-ditch effort to get the company to better protect them from the coronavirus pandemic.
"I'm worried about my health, I'm worried about my family, and I'm worried about these associates," said worker Derrick Palmer.
"There's people with health conditions, there's people that, there's elderly people, there's people with children and then there's teens," said worker Jordan Flowers. :And we all have something in common. We all have to go home to a family."
At lunchtime, the workers left the sprawling warehouse to call on Amazon to "cease all operations" and give then paid time off while closing the facility for intensive cleaning.
Last week, one employee tested positive for the virus, and the company asked anyone in contact with that person to stay home with pay for two weeks. The workers said the company told them it was an isolated case.
But employees shared a text message, sent by Amazon to staffers Monday, confirming a second positive case involving an employee who last worked March 24.
Amazon says the two cases were not connected.
"We have minimum or even not enough notification by Amazon telling us who was exposed to what and when," said employee Rina Cummings.
A union trying to organize workers at JFK 8 promoted the walkout, but only a tiny fraction of the workforce, which totals 4,500 people, left. Those who walked out said co-workers who did not follow them were fearful of losing their jobs.
An Amazon spokesman says the warehouse doesn’t need to be cleaned, and that the company has contacted health authorities and is following Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Amazon says employees are also subject to daily temperature screenings, and they’ve increased social distancing protocols, adding that many staffers normally do not work near each other in the vast warehouse.
"They're not sanitizing this place right. You're dealing with 5,000 workers here," said worker Gerald Bryson. "You have the stuff that these people are putting in the totes for the customer, and if they're infected, where's that going in the end?"
Amazon says it has increased the frequency and intensity of its deep cleanings around the facility, and the company says it is working hard to keep employees safe.