'Jeff Bezos values profits above safety': Amazon workers voice pandemic concern

Workers at facilities where there had been at least one coronavirus case said they were not being closed for deep cleaning

Workers at Amazon’s warehouse and shipping facilities say they fear going to work amid the coronavirus outbreak, and called on the company to do more to improve safety.

“We have no more wipes and hand sanitizer. We aren’t provided masks, don’t have the proper gloves, and not everything is being sanitized and cleaned before it comes to use,” said one Amazon warehouse associate in Phoenix, Arizona.

Other workers the Guardian spoke to at facilities where there had been at least one positive Covid-19 case said they were not being closed for deep cleaning, and that physical distancing was failing as hundreds could be working in the same building during a shift. Several also said that the firm was delaying sharing news that workers had tested positive.

At least 50 Amazon warehouses in the US have confirmed one or more employees have tested positive for coronavirus, as its network of facilities, which are operated by about 400,000 workers, remain open as online orders surge. Workers at Amazon warehouses in New York City, Chicago and Detroit have held walkouts in protest of working conditions during the pandemic.

The firm insists safety is paramount, and that its benefits changes during the crisis include an additional $2 an hour, double time for overtime and two weeks of paid time off for regular part-time and seasonal employees who test positive. Workers can also take unlimited unpaid time off, though some of those who spoke to the Guardian said this was not a choice they could make financially.

One warehouse worker in Opa-Locka, Florida, who tested positive for coronavirus in late March said: “I remember I was scared to go to work before all this started, but I had to go because Amazon never closed the building and I had to pay my bills.

“When I felt the first symptoms, I went to get tested, I tested positive, and I am almost sure I got it at Amazon because they are not offering at least face masks for employees to work safely,” said the worker, who requested to remain anonymous. The worker said the warehouse should have closed in response to the pandemic.

Barbara Chandler, a process assistant at Amazon JFK8 in Staten Island, New York, for more than two years, received her positive test result for coronavirus on 25 March, and was put on paid leave. She believes she contracted it from the warehouse, as she had not been going anywhere else. “They are doing temp checks which doesn’t help because I never had a temperature,” said Chandler. “They don’t have enough workers to clean the building. Instead they called mandatory overtime for two weeks.”

She added: “The 6ft rule isn’t really being followed. You can’t really follow it when you have a group of people going to break, lunch and all clocking out at the same time.”

In Robbinsville, New Jersey, workers say Amazon delayed informing workers that employees at the warehouse had tested positive for coronavirus. “They took a whole week to let us know the first person was diagnosed, which was March 23,” said one worker at EWR4 in Robbinsville. “They lie by saying they’re just shipping out essential products like toilet paper, wipes and other essential items because I’m still packing non-essential items like dildos, comics, video game headsets, Apple AirPods, Beats headphones, to name a few.”

The worker also said they haven’t been provided any masks and have run out of hand sanitizer and wipes. “They’re now doing temperature checks at the door and still want to practice social distancing with a couple thousand people in the building. But they’re hiring a mass of new employees so it’s damn near impossible to stay 6ft from another individual,” the worker added.

In Orlando, Florida, an Amazon warehouse worker at MCO1 said workers were just notified on 2 April of two cases who reportedly were last on site on 16 March. They are concerned there are other cases in the building, especially with the number of new hires Amazon is making.

“Hundreds of us are still working and they just hired a lot more. We have been training new people for the past two weeks and we have more people coming in this week and next,” said the worker. “The building runs 24 hours a day. We have people working day shifts and night shifts, meanwhile the virus lasts on cardboard for up to 24 hours, putting all of us at risk who come in contact with boxes or plastic wrap.”

The worker said daily temperature checks have begun, and workers who have over 100F temperatures will be sent home for 72 hours, but noted workers will not be paid if they are sent home with fevers.

Amazon’s ABE4 warehouse in Easton, Pennsylvania, has confirmed at least two workers have been diagnosed with coronavirus. One Amazon worker there said: “They send us a very standard text every time they learn of a new case, reminding us that our ‘health and safety are most important’, before reminding us we can take as much time off without pay as we like. Of course, anyone with bills to pay will have to go back in eventually.

“The fact that we’re still expected to report to work in a compromised warehouse to ship non-essential products if we still want to earn our living tells me that Amazon and Jeff Bezos clearly value profits above employee safety or health.”

Another worker at Amazon ABE4 warehouse in Easton, Pennsylvania said they are awaiting their test results from 2 April after they experienced symptoms. “I only left my house for work,” said the Amazon associate. “We have a lot of people quarantined, waiting on test confirmations.” The worker helped start an online petition to demand the warehouse gets shut down for cleaning.

Amazon denied claims from workers that sanitary supplies aren’t provided to all workers, and that disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer are standard across their network. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our teams… We are encouraging those who are unwell to stay home and taking extreme measures to keep people safe in our buildings,” said an Amazon spokesperson. “We’re continuing to monitor the situation in our facilities, and we are taking proactive measures to protect employees and associates who have been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed or becomes ill.”

At New York City’s JFK8 warehouse, Amazon fired manager Chris Smalls, who worked for the company for five years, after he organized a walkout protest on 31 March over a lack of protective gear and hazard pay for workers. Amazon claimed they fired Smalls for violating physical distancing rules. A leaked memo revealed Amazon executives denigrated Smalls as “not smart or articulate” while coordinating a public response to the firing.


Michael Sainato

The GuardianTramp

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