WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) today pressed Amazon on workplace safety, following disturbing reports that the tech company was continuing to implement practices that could be hazardous to workers – and by extension, all of its consumers – in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. The letter comes on the heels of yesterday’s news that the first Amazon warehouse employee in the U.S. has tested positive for COVID-19.
“Any failure of Amazon to keep its workers safe does not just put their employees at risk, it puts the entire country at risk,” the Senators wrote to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. “Americans who are taking every precaution…might risk getting infected with COVID-19 because of Amazon’s decision to prioritize efficiency and profits over the safety and well-being of its workforce.”
The lawmakers specifically asked about reports that the tech behemoth was continuing to hold “stand-up” meetings with dozens of staff crowded into a room, that proper cleaning supplies were lacking at many warehouses, and that workers weren’t being given enough time on breaks to practice good hygiene.
“It is our understanding that if a warehouse employee coughs or sneezes, they can either take the time to wash their hands and risk being written up for falling short of their shipping expectations, or meet their shipping expectations and put themselves and their colleagues at risk,” the Senator added.
The Senators asked Amazon a series of questions about:
Joining Sens. Menendez and Booker in sending this letter were Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
Full text of the letter is below and here.
Dear Mr. Bezos:
We write to echo the concerns of the more than 1,500 Amazon employees who have publicly stated that Amazon is not doing enough to support its staff or protect our communities during the outbreak of COVID-19. These concerns have grown with the news that multiple Amazon warehouse employees in Europe have contracted COVID-19; and, more recently, with reporting that the first Amazon warehouse employee in the United States has tested positive for COVID-19. While many traditional brick-and-mortar stores are experiencing financial hardships due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Amazon has seen its demand skyrocket, causing Amazon to announce that it will hire an additional 100,000 employees to help meet increased demand.
We write today to strongly urge you to prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of your employees who are also our constituents, friends, family, and neighbors. Specifically, we are concerned by reports that managers at Amazon’s warehouses continue to hold “stand up” staff meetings before every shift—meetings that result in dozens of staff crowded together in rooms for 10 or 15 minutes at a time—in contradiction of guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).We are also concerned by reports that hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are in short supply at Amazon warehouses across the country, and that some Amazon warehouses are not receiving any additional cleaning. And, we are perhaps most concerned with Amazon’s stringent use of rate-based write-ups, which have previously fallen under scrutiny for not providing enough time for staff to take bathroom breaks, and which are currently preventing Amazon warehouse employees from practicing good sanitary habits. While Amazon has issued guidance to its warehouse employees to frequently wash their hands, they are not providing enough time for them to do so—for example, it is our understanding that if a warehouse employee coughs or sneezes, they can either take the time to wash their hands and risk being written up for falling short of their shipping expectations, or meet their shipping expectations and put themselves and their colleagues at risk.
Any failure of Amazon to keep its workers safe does not just put their employees at risk, it puts the entire country at risk. The virus that causes COVID-19 can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. That means that Americans who are taking every precaution, staying home and practicing social distancing, might risk getting infected with COVID-19 because of Amazon’s decision to prioritize efficiency and profits over the safety and well-being of its workforce.
We ask that you provide a written response to the concerns raised in this letter, and to the questions listed below, by no later than March 26.
- What preventative steps is Amazon taking to ensure its employees do not contract COVID-19?
- Will Amazon agree to cover the cost of testing for COVID-19 for its employees?
- Will Amazon suspend rate-based write-ups until the threat of COVID-19 is mitigated?
- Will Amazon provide paid sick leave to its employees regardless of diagnosis?
- Will Amazon provide its workers time and a half hazard pay during this period of heightened risk?
- Will Amazon pledge to immediately shut down any facility on a temporary basis in which a worker tests positive for coronavirus and offer two weeks of paid sick leave to employees at that facility as they self-isolate?