Amazon won't say how many workers have gotten COVID-19. So workers are tracking cases themselves

Amazon workers say they need to know how many cases of coronavirus have hit warehouses and Whole Foods stores. As totals have climbed, the company has grown reticent.

5/29/2020 3:11:00 AM

Many Amazon employees feel they are making decisions in the dark, regarding the risk of COVID-19 at work. “A lot of workers we’ve talked to feel they’re not given enough information and it’s causing a lot of stress and anxiety,' one expert explained.

Amazon workers say they need to know how many cases of coronavirus have hit warehouses and Whole Foods stores. As totals have climbed, the company has grown reticent.

Harry Sentoso, 63, went back to work at Amazon as part of the company’s hiring wave. Two weeks later, he was dead from COVID-19.In an internal memo on May 11, General Manager Paul Swaim said the facility actually had 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19. He said he had received feedback from employees that the company’s text notification systems often came through out of order or sometimes not at all.

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Advertisement“I realize that this confusion may be leading to a sense that we are being less-than-transparent in the total number of cases at the site,” he wrote, according to a screenshot of the memo reviewed by The Times. “I’m happy to provide this information to you at any time — please just ask.”

The breakdown in communication can’t always be pinned on technology.At the Whole Foods at Fairfax Avenue and 3rd Street in Los Angeles, two employees — who requested anonymity —suspected something was up the morning of April 2. One overheard supervisors tell Amazon shoppers that if workers stood within six feet of another person it could be grounds for termination. The other learned night employees were told not to come in because a deep cleaning was scheduled. When the first employee asked a supervisor if someone had tested positive, he was told to stop spreading rumors.

Both employees woke up the next morning to automated voicemails notifying them of the first confirmed case of coronavirus at their store.AdvertisementWhen asked how early in the day store managers knew about the confirmed case and why workers were told otherwise, Whole Foods spokesperson Rachel Malish said in an email the company wasn’t “able to go into full details out of respect for the privacy of our Team Members.”

The Fairfax and 3rd Street store has since had three additional workers test positive for the virus.Levandowski, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company examines video footage of employees who test positive and contacts workers known to have been within six feet of the infected individuals for more than 15 minutes. A Whole Foods spokesperson said reviewing video footage is not the only way the company identifies workers who may have had close contact with diagnosed individuals, but did not specify the company’s other methods.

But many employees say it’s not enough. They feel they are making decisions in the dark because their supervisors refuse to disclose information that could help, such as which departments individuals who have tested positive worked in and where in the store they spent time.

Advertisement“A lot of workers we’ve talked to feel they’re not given enough information and it’s causing a lot of stress and anxiety. And it’s a safety hazard too, because they don’t know what level of vigilance to have and what precautions to take,” said Tim Shadix, legal director of labor advocacy group Warehouse Workers Resource Center.

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Levandowski said the company declines to provide additional information, such as an individual’s workstation or department, for privacy reasons. She said the company had not heard about issues with workers receiving text notifications about new cases.

“Whole Foods Market is providing an essential service in our communities and like all businesses operating in this climate, we continue to balance that responsibility with our responsibility as an employer,” a Whole Foods spokesperson said in a statement. “Any notification of a diagnosis in our stores is met with swift and comprehensive action and communication.”

The question of what duty companies have to notify their workers about coronavirus cases is “uncharted waters,” said Laura Stock, executive director of the UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program.AdvertisementCalifornia occupational health and safety law requires employers to keep a record of all injuries and illnesses in a workplace. That record, called

“Log 300,”is supposed to be available to workers on request.Because the coronavirus is a relatively new workplace hazard, that law hasn’t been tested with relation to the pandemic, as far as Stock knows.But anexecutive order signedby Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier in the month could support an argument that coronavirus constitutes a work-related illness that would need to be recorded in companies’ Log 300s, Stock said. The order established a presumption in workers’ compensation claims that any essential workers infected with COVID-19 contracted the virus on the job.

Levandowski said she was not familiar with the rule, and could not comment on whether the company recorded coronavirus cases as part of its log.AdvertisementOn warehouse floors, ballooning demand for online orders since the start of the pandemic is putting strain on workers. A shipment of 27,000 pairs of shoes might come into a facility on any given day; a rainbow of boxes, some stamped with brand names, are stacked in rows on towering orange carts.

More people have gone back to work since Amazon ended the policy it implemented at the start of the pandemic, allowing workers to take unlimited unpaid leave without penalty. Whole Foods employees, anxious about safety risks, will see the companyphase out

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a $2 coronavirus-related pay raise at the end of May.Jumpp has had time to track cases as she’s been off from work since the end of February; she requested additional unpaid leave in March as soon as the company offered it as an option because of the outbreak. Since she left, one of her co-workers at the facility has died.

She doesn’t plan to return to work at Amazon. “I don’t feel safe,” she said.AdvertisementDoan continued to work at Whole Foods until Wednesday; she says she was fired after leaving work without clocking out during a panic attack. (Whole Foods was not immediately available to comment.) She was pulled aside by her supervisor for a team huddle last week. There had been another confirmed coronavirus infection at her store, he said.

Read more: Los Angeles Times »

Um what? They have the power of the internet in their hands ....not enough information give me a break

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