Amazon warehouse employees are seeking transparency from the e-commerce giant after alleging it “didn’t have a plan” to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, according to an extensive report by NBC News.
The oulet spoke to one anonymous Amazon employee from a warehouse in Kenosha who said that employees received alerts that their colleagues tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 9, a practice that had occurred three times a week in the preceding four weeks.
The employee noted that during a tornado warning issued by the National Weather Serivce, managers at the warehouse ushered employees into windowless rooms where they huddled shoulder to shoulder for half an hour.
“They were just shoving people into the breakrooms, easily over 200 in each one,” the employee told NBC. “They didn’t have a plan. There was no social distancing, none whatsoever.”
She said she did not know if the incident resulted in additional coronavirus cases, and according to NBC, neither did the Kenosha Health Department.
According to hundreds of pages of internal correspondence from the Kenosha County Division of Health, Amazon declined to provide data about the total number of cases in the warehouse despite repeated requests by health department officials.
In one email exchange between Kenosha County’s health director, Dr. Jen Freiheit and a colleague in May, Freiheit said Amazon is “less than easy to work with” in regard to providing information on how many workers at the warehouse had tested positive for COVID-19.
After multiple emails from Freiheit asking for more transparency, Amazon reportedly said that it has started a voluntary testing program for workers at facilities in Kenosha.
A spokesperson for Amazon did not immediately return FOX Business’ request for comment.
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NBC found similar issues at other health departments across the country.
The outlet said it contacted 25 health departments with high concentrations of Amazon fulfillment centers and other logistics warehouses in 16 states asking for records related to COVID workplace investigations and inspections in warehouse facilities and email communication with Amazon.
They noted that responses were varied, with only five departments providing the information. Two had rejected the requests due to the fact that the records would contain confidential information that could “harm a person or business,” while another said it was too busy to process records.
Meanwhile, another six reportedly acknowledged the request but didn’t respond, five said they had no responsive records, and two didn’t acknowledge the request.
NBC also said it asked for email exchanges with Amazon, with seven health departments returning relevant records, four returning irrelevant records, four saying they had no responsive records. In addition, five said they needed more time, four acknowledged the request but never responded, and one in Harris County, Texas said it was too busy to process records.
In addition, NBC talked with 40 Amazon employees from 23 facilities who said that many of the safety measures Amazon enacted at the start of the pandemic are either no longer active or difficult to enforce. The employees noted that without more detail from the company, it was difficult to make informed decisions about the safety of coming into work.
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According to NBC, some of the employees have started tracking COVID-19 cases in their facilities themselves using Facebook groups and spreadsheets.
Jana Jumpp, a former Amazon employee at an Indiana fulfillment center, reportedly began keeping track because she believed Amazon wasn’t providing workers with enough information about cases to make informed decisions about coming into work during a pandemic.
“Someone else needed to keep score,” she said.
Jumpp’s data found that there have been 2,038 positive cases at the facility, which Amazon confirmed to NBC.
However, there may be more cases since the estimate was based on the notifications sent by Amazon when there have been new positive cases. The notifications reportedly show multiple new cases but do not specify whether that means two cases or 10. Jumpp said she counts these notifications as two cases.
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Amazon workers added that they only receive vague information regarding positive cases through text messages, emails, and an app used by employees.
“The texts we get distinguish between whether there was one case or multiple cases found that day, but that’s as specific as it gets. You don’t know whether they were on your shift or in the same section as you,” John Hopkins, who works at the DSF4 Amazon fulfillment center in San Leandro, California, told NBC.
The outlet reviewd dozens of screenshots of the notifications, which flag when a worker or multiple workers test postive at a facility and the date they were last on site. Amazon reportedly says it will “proactively reach out” to those who have been in contact with sick employees, but workers say they haven’t been aware of any communication.
“To my knowledge no one in my facility was even told they were close enough to a positive case to quarantine, and it’s a pretty small facility, so it seems impossible that no one came into contact with one of the people who was sick,” Hopkins noted. “It seems to me that they’re not even contact tracing”.
Amazon reportedly says it kept the notifications vague for privacy reasons and that it used a camera surveillance system called “Distance Assistant” to detect workers who had been within six feet of an infected worker for at least 15 minutes for contact tracing purposes. The company also reportedly noted that it asks sick workers questions about contact outside of work, including carpooling and cohabitation, and that only a small proportion of workers met these criteria.
However, the move by Amazon has done little to keep employees at ease.
“I hope workers understand that they have power in numbers and they need to not be so trusting that a company is going to do the right thing,” Jumpp said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires companies to report worked-related illnesses and injuries, but studies have shown that these are routinely underreported by employers, especially in regard to COVID-19.
OSHA has issued guidelines to employers regarding how to protect workers from the pandemic, but has reportedly done little enforcement, issuing just 14 citations after receiving more than 10,069 coronavirus-related complaints since March, according to NBC.
An OSHA spokesperson did not immediately return FOX Business’ request for comment.
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The NBC investigation comes as Amazon has faced intense scrutiny for its working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Between March 19 and April 10, employees at more than 519 of the company’s U.S. warehouse and distribution facilities had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Amazon and local media reports.
As a result, the company was forced to shut down some of the facilities for cleaning, and some co-workers who were in close contact with their infected colleagues were quarantined.
In April, Amazon terminated two employees who criticized the working conditions at the e-commerce giant’s warehouses in the wake of the pandemic, for “repeatedly violating internal policies,” which later led to a walkout by hundreds of Amazon employees.
Amazon employees also held a protest in August outside the $16 million New York City apartment of CEO Jeff Bezos.
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