Amazon accused of underreporting COVID-19 cases

A coalition of labor groups released a report calling on federal officials to investigate Amazon over allegedly underreporting cases of COVID-19 at its warehouses.

Despite admitting that almost 20,000 workers contracted the coronavirus in 2020, the report claims the e-commerce giant only reported 27 cases of “respiratory conditions” to federal regulators.

The Strategic Organizing Center, along with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Warehouse Workers Resource Center and the Awood Center, are also calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate that discrepancy.

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“Amazon has failed to explain why it believes that out of the tens of thousands of its employees infected with COVID-19, virtually none of them were infected at work,” the organizations write in their complaint. 

“This persistent pattern of apparent non-compliance would be alarming on its own at any employer — not to mention the second-largest private employer in the entire country,” the complaint continues. “However, these evident failures have also happened with little or no federal oversight.”

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel countered that the SOC’s analysis is “intentionally misleading to try and paint a false picture.”

“OSHA has acknowledged that assessing whether a COVID case was caused through exposure in the workplace vs. in the community is difficult,” she explained in a statement. “OSHA has provided employers with guidance about when to record cases as workplace related exposure and we have worked to follow this guidance throughout the pandemic.”

Workers at dozens of facilities have spoken up during the pandemic about what they view as a failure by the company to protect against the spread of coronavirus.

Amazon pledged to provide workers with protective equipment, increase cleaning and enforce social distancing measures at warehouses in response to the health crisis.

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Workers say the company has failed to follow through on those promises.

The SOC surveyed almost 800 Amazon workers across 40 states for its report. Over half said the company has relaxed social distancing rules and conducted fewer temperature checks during the recent case surge driven by the delta variant.

Roughly 40 percent of the warehouse workers surveyed said they have been exposed to colleagues who tested positive for COVID-19, with only one fourth of those workers receiving an immediate notification from Amazon about their exposure.

“It’s really easy to get COVID-19 at Amazon warehouses, especially now due to the hiring for peak season,” said an Amazon worker in San Bernardino who preferred to stay anonymous. “And they’re not doing anything to keep us safe. Peak season at Amazon is all about profit over people.”

Amazon agreed earlier this month to improve its communication with workers and local health departments in California about case outbreaks and pay $500,000 to resolve an investigation by the state attorney general.