Mar 19, 2020
Two days after 1,500 Amazon workers around the world publicly called on the trillion-dollar company to take better safety precautions to avoid the spread of coronavirus in its warehouses, Amazon said a worker in its Queens, New York fulfillment center had tested positive for the virus.
As The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, workers have been sounding the alarm that Amazon warehouses in the U.S. and Europe have not taken sufficient precautions to prevent contamination. One employee told the outlet that workers were still expected to meet high packaging quotas--making it difficult for them to take breaks to wash their hands and take other precautions.
The Queens warehouse was temporarily shut down Wednesday after the employee was tested so the facility could be disinfected. Workers who arrived for the night shift Wednesday claimed that they had been expected to work after the company had allowed just four hours for the warehouse to be sanitized.
"We know that everybody was expected to come in at 10:15 today when people knew that there was an issue with coronavirus," one worker, a member of Amazonians United New York City, said in a video posted to Twitter. "It's completely unacceptable."
"It does not take four hours to disinfect for this," said another. "You cannot possibly have disinfected every package after you've got a positive diagnosis."
\u201cAmazon is reopening our facility one day after a worker was rushed to the ER with COVID-19. This facility is compromising our health and the health of the whole city. Please help us call on Amazon to close the facility with pay for two weeks to ensure our safety.\u201d— Amazonians United New York City (@Amazonians United New York City) 1584638666
\u201cLast month we fought Amazon to win our legally entitled sick leave. Tonight we shut down our warehouse to protect each other and our communities from #coronavirus and Amazon\u2019s greed\n\n#AmazoniansUnited\n#allpowertothepeople\u201d— Amazonians United New York City (@Amazonians United New York City) 1584595416
In the video, the organizers accused the company of "gaslighting" them. Amazonians United New York City also denounced the company for requiring employees to work in the warehouse on Thursday, a day after the worker tested positive.
\u201cThey\u2019re trying to keep all the workers in the dark. It\u2019s less than 24 hours. Amazon is trying to force morning shift to go to work as if there wasn\u2019t a coronavirus case during their shift yesterday\u201d— Amazonians United New York City (@Amazonians United New York City) 1584616803
Amazon representatives toldThe Atlantic that the workers had not been expected to work the night shift.
Even after several workers in Spain and Italy tested positive for the virus, Amazon has sent employees home only after they begin coughing. The lack of precautions could endanger Amazon customers around the world, as well as the company's 800,000 global employees, as scientists say the coronavirus can still be detected on surfaces, including packaging, several hours after contamination.
\u201cWelp, an Amazon warehouse worker in Queens has tested positive. What happens when Amazon workers start getting sick in droves? https://t.co/GMyYl77Elf\u201d— Olga Khazan (@Olga Khazan) 1584588238
Amazon said this week it plans to hire 100,000 more employees to keep up with demand as millions of people practice social distancing and rely more on placing online orders for necessities. The push concerns labor organizers including Matteo Rossi, who is attempting to organize workers in Europe with the Transnational Social Strike.
"Amazon warehouses are more crowded than before," Rossi told the Post--a condition that could make social distancing impossible for employees.
The company is particularly recruiting among workers who have been furloughed or laid off from their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 222,000 people worldwide including more than 10,000 in the United States.
"While 100,000 new Amazon jobs will have a minuscule impact on a soaring unemployment rate, it's what the shift symbolizes that's of note," wrote Brian Merchant at the Medium publication OneZero. "If restaurants, bars, and local shops close permanently while app-based monoliths hoover up the customers and the jobs, the trendline may be very difficult to reverse as we wade out of the wreckage. And this is not a future we want."
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