Why Is Amazon Hiring Pharmacists?

I applied for unemployment insurance today, which has been temporarily expanded to include freelancers, and was looking through the job listings posted by the New York Department of Labor. This is an interesting one: “Per Diem Staff Pharmacist” at PillPack, a start-up Amazon acquired for $753 million last summer.

According to CNBC, PillPack’s founder—himself the son of a pharmacist—wanted to “modernize the pharmacy experience” and create “an aspirational brand, like what Warby Parker created in the stodgy eyeglasses market, rather than constantly reminding people that they’re sick.” It doesn’t stop there:

PillPack is just a piece of Amazon’s expansive plan to uproot the $3 trillion U.S. health-care industry. The company is also working with J.P. Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway on a joint venture called Haven aiming to improve care and bring down the costs. It has plans to open its own health clinics for employees, and there’s a secretive group called Grand Challenge working on telemedicine and applying machine learning to cancer research, among other futuristic projects. Then there’s Amazon Web Services and the Alexa voice division, which have various efforts underway to pull together medical records and mine data.

In response to the pandemic, Amazon is in the process of hiring upwards of 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers. Pressure to meet increased customer demand has given Amazon workers new leverage in their fight against the bosses, while the threat of infection has proven a powerful organizing issue.

Early last month, in an attempt to disperse the oncoming wave of shop-floor agitation, Amazon began granting concessions to workers—albeit in fits and starts. From the Wall Street Journal:

On March 9, Amazon announced it would relax its time-off policy for warehouse employees, allowing them unlimited unpaid time off that now extends through April.

Two days later, it revised its stance to offer paid sick days to fulfillment center workers possibly infected, and said subsequently that employees who show any symptoms could be eligible for paid sick leave. Amazon raised pay for all employees in fulfillment centers, transportation, stores and deliveries in the U.S. and Canada by $2 an hour through April, bringing its lowest hourly rate to $17 per hour for those employees.

On March 23, Amazon said it granted paid time off to all part-time workers, something warehouse employees across the country had been asking for since last year.

Some company warehouse and delivery employees said such measures were vital to get people simply to come to work.

The company is positioning itself to dominate healthcare in the same way that it has come to dominate retail and logistics (both digital and physical), throwing crumbs to its workers in the hopes that it can stave off mass strikes or a union in the meantime. Thus has the coronavirus revealed yet another facet of the nightmarish world Amazon seeks to build: Prime customers receiving same-day-delivery medicine prescribed by company doctors that Amazon workers themselves can barely afford to see.

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