Part of our weekly series with The Nib
on inequity in the time of pandemic.

B., Staten Island, New York
Interviewed May 15, 2020

In the foreground, a woman in silhouette sits in a seat on the Staten Island ferry, checking her phone. Behind her is the window of the ferry and we can see the Statue of Liberty. Narration: B. has worked at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse since 2018. She has requested that we not use her full name for fear of retaliation. b. B: “At first it started where we had three cases. And then after awhile, there was no number. It was just: We have more cases. More cases.”
A city bus dropping workers off outside the Amazon warehouse—it’s a bland, gray building that has the Amazon logo on the front. B. “Because we are closely in contact with each other and it's a huge amount of people, I already knew people were definitely gonna get sick. It’s a kind of environment that’s great for the disease.
Dozens of people entering and leaving the building at the same time. A worker holds a laser thermometer to the forehead of a worker B: “On a good week it’s 4,000 people in the building, but I don’t know exact numbers anymore. I don’t see upper management so they must be staying home.”
Stacks and stacks of boxes. B.: “We are just numbers. That’s the one issue I have with the job. We’re not treated like people. We’re numbers.”
A text on a phone screen. B: “I keep finding out about people I know who have been sick. It’s just word of mouth. A coworker texted me.” Text on phone screen: I was waiting for the results. Unfortunately, I have the virus. B: “My heart started beating fast.”
The worker who narrates this comic is seen again from afar, walking through the warehouse floor. B: “I never had anxiety until this situation. I only have it when I go to that building. If I don’t go in, I don’t get paid at all. And I feel guilty sometimes, leaving my coworkers. So I go in.”
A group of workers are sitting in the break room, eating their lunches and talking to each other. Tables are six feet apart and people are scattered around the room. It’s a friendly scene, but no one is wearing a mask. Everyone is close together. B: “I feel like the building should be shut down. Like for one shift and clean a whole building. They're not going to do that because they make so much money.” Narration: Amazon spent more than $4 billion on its COVID-19 response. This includes staggered shifts and breaks, mobile phone clock-in, increased fresh air intake, disinfectant spraying and social distance ambassadors. Amazon said masks have been available at B.'s facility since late March and its leaders work on-site.
Stacks and stacks of boxes. B.: “We are just numbers. That’s the one issue I have with the job. We’re not treated like people. We’re numbers.”

Interview by Will Evans, illustrated by Thi Bui, script by Sarah Mirk and Amanda Pike.

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Will Evans was a senior reporter and producer for Reveal, covering labor and tech. His reporting prompted government investigations, legislation, reforms and prosecutions. A series on working conditions at Amazon warehouses was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and won a Gerald Loeb Award. His work has also won multiple Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, including for a series on safety problems at Tesla. Other investigations exposed secret spying at Uber, illegal discrimination in the temp industry and rampant fraud in California's drug rehab system for the poor. Prior to joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2005, Evans was a reporter at The Sacramento Bee.

Thi Bui was born in Vietnam and came to the United States in 1978 as part of the "boat people" wave of refugees fleeing Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War. Her debut graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, 2017) has been selected for an American Book Award, a Common Book for UCLA and other colleges and universities, an all-city read by Seattle and San Francisco public libraries, a National Book Critics Circle finalist in autobiography, and an Eisner Award finalist in reality-based comics. It made over thirty best of 2017 book lists, including Bill Gates' top five picks. She illustrated the picture book, A Different Pond, written by the poet Bao Phi (Capstone, 2017), for which she won a Caldecott Honor. With her son, Hien, she co-illustrated the children’s book, Chicken of the Sea (McSweeney’s, 2019), written by Pulitzer winner Viet Thanh Nguyen and his son, Ellison. Her short comics can be found online at Reveal News, The Nib, PEN America, and BOOM California. She is currently researching and drawing a work of graphic nonfiction about immigrant detention and deportation, to be published by One World, Random House.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) was a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison.

Amanda Pike (she/her) is the director of the TV and documentary department and executive producer of films and series at Reveal. Under her leadership, The Center for Investigative Reporting garnered its first Academy Award nomination and four national Emmys, among other accolades. She was the executive producer of the inaugural year of the Glassbreaker Films initiative, supporting women in documentary filmmaking and investigative journalism. She has spent the past two decades reporting and producing documentaries for PBS, CBS, ABC, National Geographic, A&E, Lifetime and The Learning Channel, among others. Subjects have ranged from militia members in Utah to young entrepreneurs in Egypt and genocide perpetrators in Cambodia. Pike also has dabbled in fiction filmmaking, producing the short film “On the Assassination of the President,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. She is a graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.