A day after the Los Angeles Times reported that Amazon employees have filed complaints with the state of California asking for a workplace safety probe, Amazon has announced that it’s building a covid-19 testing center for “small numbers of front line employees.” It amounts to throwing a press release on a wildfire, after weeks of worker protests demanding that warehouses where numerous employees tested positive shut down for cleaning. (In at least one case, Amazon fired an organizer and planned a smear campaign against them.) According to the Washington Post, workers in at least 64 Amazon facilities have tested positive for covid-19.
It’s unclear whether Amazon will be producing its own tests or merely obtaining as many of the limited supply of tests as possible and processing them in its own lab. Its announcement makes it sound like the latter: The company laments that “we live in a world of scarcity where COVID-19 testing is heavily rationed,” and says that “high-volume testing capacity” “will take collective action by NGOs, companies, and governments.” Amazon was not available for comment at the time of publication.
Amazon says that it’s assembled a “team of Amazonians” including research scientists, procurement specialists, and software engineers to shift from their normal work responsibilities and work on the lab. “We are not sure how far we will get in the relevant timeframe, but we think it’s worth trying, and we stand ready to share anything we learn with others,” it says. For now, testing will be “incremental.” While the nation suffers a shortage of covid-19 tests, labs under-equipped with PPE are reportedly struggling with a pile-up from hospitals.
On Wednesday, Amazon released a video of CEO Jeff Bezos briskly strolling through a warehouse and Whole Foods, with the rigid grin of an executive and the hustle of an inmate trying to sneak out of prison through the front door. The reception was lukewarm, possibly because, again, workers around the country are nearing a revolt. Workers have reported getting no promised sick leave pay; Amazon drivers have said they’ve been fired for missing work; some workers say they can’t afford not to work; and workers short on basics like hand sanitizer are calling Amazon facilities a “breeding ground” for coronavirus. A day after Bezos visited, that warehouse announced that a worker had been diagnosed with covid-19.