State Watch

Warehouse fined after hundreds of workers test positive for COVID-19

Washington state labor regulators this week fined the employers of a food distribution warehouse $285,000 for violating coronavirus safety regulations, including for admitting employees who tested positive for COVID-19 into the workplace.

The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries on Tuesday announced a fine against United Natural Foods Inc., Capstone Logistics and Prime360, the employers of about 1,000 workers of a food distribution warehouse in Centralia, a city about 1.5 hours outside of Seattle.

“Our investigation uncovered a widespread outbreak that put employees, their families, and their communities across 10 counties at risk for COVID-19,” said the department’s director, Joel Sacks, in a statement.

The department initiated an investigation into the warehouse employers following a referral from a local county health department. Workers who tested positive for COVID-19 in Thurston County feared they could lose their job if they were sick. One employee was told to report to work despite testing positive for the virus.

United Natural Foods, the owner and operator of the 1 million square-foot warehouse that oversees about 600 employees, was fined $140,000 for “allowing workers with COVID-19 into the workplace and for failure to report hospitalizations, verify worker vaccination status, and enforce mask use,” according to state officials.

Capstone, which manages about 200 employees for shipments at the warehouse, was listed as a severe violator and cited with a $75,400 fine for similar violations after 54 employees tested positive for the virus and one was hospitalized.

Prime360, a company overseeing about 200 employees who sort pallets at the warehouse, was fined $70,000 because a manager chose not to enforce health and safety rules for masks or vaccination checks, labor officials said.

“The actions these companies took or failed to take undoubtedly made it worse — contributing to faster and broader spread of the virus in the workplace,” Sacks said in his statement.

All three companies have appealed the fines, The Seattle Times reported on Thursday. Prime360 told the newspaper it enforces robust safety rules and offers paid sick leave for COVID-19 to employees. 

A United Natural Foods spokesperson told The Hill in a statement that the company has “been recognized over the past several years for having implemented industry-leading COVID-19 safety protocols.”

“UNFI frontline associates have been essential in keeping food and groceries moving to our customers, allowing them to support and feed their local communities,” the statement said. “Our company’s most important value across all distribution centers, including Centralia, is the safety of our associates, contractors, customers and the products we sell.

The Hill has reached out to Capstone for comment.

The news follows similar reports that an Amazon warehouse in California concealed infections from workers. Amazon settled the case in November, agreeing to notify workers within one day of a confirmed positive case, CNBC reported.

A study from the University of Illinois Chicago released last year reported that warehouse workers are at greater risk of catching the novel coronavirus. The CDC has various guidelines in place for warehouse workers to stay safe.

Updated: 5:22 p.m.

Tags Capstone Logistics COVID rules COVID-19 Fines fines Prime360 retailers Seattle United Natural Foods warehouse Washington state
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