In spite of growing federal demands for transparency regarding the number of covid-19 exposures among the second-largest U.S. workforce, Amazon’s stance so far can be largely characterized as “fuck you, make me.” Unsurprisingly, this disdain is extending to local-level concerns, too—now most urgently in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Lack of company-provided data has led to Amazon workers themselves attempting to track the number of cases among their workforce across the country. The unflattering (if informal) total they’ve reached now stands at 1,349 cases and nine deaths. With New York City still claiming the dubious honor as the nation’s epicenter for the virus, warehouses in the Northeast have been hit especially hard; outside this region, a fulfillment center and a sorting center in Kenosha make up the worst-hit Amazon campus with at least 32 cases so far, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
If, for whatever reason, providing data on infection rates publicly seems like an undue burden to put on Amazon, one might expect the company to at least be sharing pertinent information privately with officials. According to exactly those authorities, that’s not happening. Jen Freiheit, the health officer for Kenosha County, told the Journal Sentinel that Amazon has not provided her office with the total number of exposures or assisted in contact tracing efforts by providing contact lists for infected workers.
Amazon has also claimed to be reviewing security footage post-confirmation to determine if other workers spent extended time near covid-positive individuals as a form of contact tracing. Despite apparently having this data on hand, in many cases, it hasn’t been provided to officials, according to the Journal Sentinel.
Freiheit is now considering shutting down the facility if the company remains recalcitrant.
In a statement to Gizmodo, Amazon said it had begun testing workers at some of its sites for covid-19, and would “soon” begin offering tests to employees at the Kenosha facilities. “Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our employees and we welcome a visit from the Kenosha County Health Department to see the investments we’ve made in safety, including enhanced daily cleaning, temperature checks, mandatory masks, and social distancing measures,” the company said.
As mentioned, however, Amazon’s track record of ignoring or misleading lawmakers runs deep. Reporting over the years has painted a picture of the company’s warehouses as exceptionally unsafe, with worker anecdotes increasingly supported by hard data from OSHA logs. Calls from lawmakers to release network-wide injury information have been blown off.
Now the same childish dynamic is playing out anew amid a global pandemic. Two letters requesting process reforms and additional data (one from Senators Booker, Menendez, Sanders, and Brown; the other from House members Tlaib and Dingell) have so far had no noticeable impact. It’s difficult to see how refusing to cooperate with health officials now—now!—isn’t, at best, reckless endangerment of Amazon’s workers and the communities they live in.