An Amazon worker in one of its facilities in New York City has tested positive for covid-19, the company said, and is in quarantine and receiving medical care.
A spokesperson confirmed to Gizmodo that the individual worked at its DBK1 facility in Queens, adding that it “temporarily closed the Queens delivery station for additional sanitation and sent associates home with full pay.” While the company shut the facility temporarily on Wednesday, a spokesperson told Gizmodo that it’s now open again.
“We are supporting the individual who is now in quarantine,” Amazon said in a statement. “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 we’re following all guidelines from local officials about the operations of our buildings.”
Amazon added that it’s “implemented proactive measures to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance, and adding distance between drivers and customers when making deliveries.” The company also said it has added “enhanced daily cleaning” as part of these protocols. It says it’s staggered break times and encourages maintaining a three-foot separation, as recommended by the World Health Organization. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, recommends six feet of space between individuals for social distancing.)
According to the Atlantic, which first reported the case, workers coming in for a night shift were contacted about the incident Wednesday by someone with the worker-led group Amazonians United. One employee who works at the facility told the magazine that workers were not notified by management of the situation but rather from their colleague (though an Amazon spokesperson denied this was the case to the Atlantic). When asked for further clarification about its notification processes, an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo that it contacts its hourly workers by phone.
The spokesperson said an estimated 20 workers showed up on site to work scheduled shifts out of more than 120, adding that a manager was present to notify these employees and send them home with pay. It’s unclear, however, how nearly two dozen workers failed to be notified. The spokesperson implied that these workers somehow simply missed the call or message—but 20 people mysteriously failing to get the memo seems a little high. And if this is true, the company might consider a more effective system for notifying hourly workers who may be putting their health at risk just by commuting into their jobs, much less performing them in a facility full of other people.
But that account doesn’t jibe with accounts of the incident reported by the Atlantic as well as Amazonians United NYC, which tweeted that they effectively shut down the factory after Amazon “canceled 9:00 pm but had 10:15 pm come to work.”
A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the discrepancies between Amazon’s account of the events and that of its workers.
Earlier this week, Amazonians United NYC called on CEO Jeff Bezos in a petition demanding worker protections related to the outbreak of covid-19, including childcare pay and subsidies, increased hazard pay, killing rate-based write-ups, and a facility shutdown with full pay in the event that a worker tests positive for covid-19.
Most importantly, the workers asked for paid sick leave regardless of a covid-19 diagnosis, citing a lack of access to coronavirus testing at this time. Amazon did finally cave to offering two weeks of paid leave to weeks to workers placed in quarantine or sick with covid-19, but on the condition that a health authority confirms the diagnosis or orders the isolation.
“We demand Amazon makes paid sick leave available to all its workers (full-time, part-time, and contract) without requiring a positive coronavirus diagnosis or quarantine,” the petition reads. “The amount of paid leave must adequately accommodate particularly vulnerable workers (elderly, those with immunodeficiencies, etc.) for as long as they need, which in many cases will exceed the current two-week duration.”
These are basic workers’ rights that, frankly, should already be in place—but particularly so given the ongoing global pandemic. Demanding Amazon take these measures isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s vitally important to mitigate the spread of the disease and as well as protect the health and safety of those in the Amazon community.