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What Amazon Workers Are Facing as Coronavirus Spreads in the US

Wired 27 Mar 2020 05:16

Jana Jumpp has been working at an Amazon fulfillment center in Jeffersonville, Indiana, for over four years. Until recently, her experience at the company had been great. Amazon helped pay for Jumpp to go to massage therapy school, and even sent her to assist with the opening of a new facility in Texas last year.

Then, the pandemic hit, and everything changed. “Amazon’s reaction to the coronavirus has left me shocked, scared, and disgusted,” Jumpp said on a call with reporters Wednesday. The call was organized by Athena, a coalition of local and national organizations critical of Amazon. Jumpp says the company hasn’t provided enough supplies like hand sanitizer at her facility, and that its current leave policy won’t be enough to prevent people from coming to work sick. “Because of my age, I am more susceptible to the virus,” said Jumpp, who is 58. “I am taking unpaid time off, my only option, because I’m scared to go back.”

The United States now has more confirmed cases of Covid-19 than anywhere else in the world. With millions of Americans across the country ordered to shelter in place, Amazon’s vast delivery network has emerged as a vital service for people stuck inside their homes. To meet soaring demand, the company has prioritized delivering essential goods like medical supplies and food, and it has announced it will hire an additional 100,000 workers in the US, as well as give $2 an hour raises to existing employees. But workers in multiple states say Amazon is not doing enough to protect their health and that of their families. They say they are scared, that they are not getting information they need. Some, like Jumpp, are forgoing paychecks and staying home; others have left their jobs entirely for fear of being exposed to Covid-19.

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While there have been no reported cases of Covid-19 at the Jeffersonville warehouse where Jumpp works, three workers tested positive for the virus at a returns center in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, just 30 miles away. It was shut down Wednesday for additional cleaning, Bloomberg reported. Amazon says it will reopen on April 1. So far, Amazon workers have tested positive for Covid-19 in at least 10 facilities in the US, according to media reports.

“Since the early days of this situation, we have worked closely with local authorities to proactively respond, ensuring we continue to serve customers while taking care of our associates and teams,” a spokesperson for Amazon said in a statement. “We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC, and adding distance between drivers and customers when making deliveries.”

‘We Heard More From the Local News’

When a case of Covid-19 does emerge, some Amazon employees say they are not being properly notified by the company. Two workers at a warehouse in Michigan, where a case of coronavirus was confirmed earlier this week, told WIRED they found out through the grapevine, not via the company itself. Both workers asked to remain anonymous because they feared retribution from Amazon. They say only associates who worked the same shift as the person who tested positive were informed about it. “We heard more from the local news,” said one of the workers. The other quit after learning through a coworker about the positive case. “I actually resigned, because two of my children and myself have asthma, and it’s not worth it right now to work there,” the person said. “Our health comes first, not packages.” Amazon says it communicated to employees about the confirmed case.

The novel coronavirus is highly contagious, and it may live on surfaces for several hours or even days, according to some studies. “People start shedding even before they get symptoms,” says Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. Many people who have the coronavirus also exhibit only mild symptoms, making it easy to unwittingly pass along.

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