NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker penned an op-ed published on APP.com and NorthJersey.com calling on Amazon to do more to protect its workers after several employees at its facilities in New Jersey and across the country have tested positive for COVID-19.
“There is a clear disconnect between what Amazon says it is doing to protect employees and the conditions workers actually face each day on the job,” the senators wrote. “We hope that Amazon’s corporate leadership will do everything in its power, as quickly as possible, to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Amazon has an important role to play in ensuring Americans receive essential supplies, but with that comes a responsibility to protect its workforce.”
Sens. Menendez and Booker have heard directly from several constituents who work at Amazon facilities in New Jersey and raised concerns about adequate supplies of hand sanitizer, gloves and cleaning wipes to disinfect work stations, and access to paid leave for those who show symptoms of COVID-19.
“They say on the radio and TV they are taking extra precautions and cleaning, but this still is not happening,” a worker at Amazon’s Robbinsville, N.J. facility stated in a letter to Sen. Menendez. “I’m afraid it’s going to take deaths in the building before it’s taken seriously.”
Last month the senators pressed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on workplace safety, following disturbing reports that the company was continuing to implement practices that could be hazardous to workers—and by extension, all of its consumers—in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. They followed up that inquiry with another letter on April 8 further raising concerns about the treatment and safety of Amazon’s front-line warehouse workers, and repeating their call for the tech giant to temporarily close any warehouses where a worker tests positive for COVID-19 so it can be properly sterilized.
Below is the full text of the senators’ op-ed:
Coronavirus: Amazon must do more to protect its warehouse workers | Menendez / Booker
By Bob Menendez and Cory Booker
Last month, we asked Amazon to detail what it’s doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its warehouses. In a March 22 response, an executive vice president stated that “any accusations that we are not properly protecting our employees are simply unfounded.”
Amazon’s letter went on to list how the company is making hand sanitizer available, spacing out employee workstations, increasing sanitation, providing two weeks of paid leave to anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 and offering unlimited unpaid time off to warehouse staff.
Unfortunately, these important steps are not being implemented effectively across all of Amazon’s facilities.
Recently, we received a disturbing letter from a South Jersey woman about the conditions workers encounter daily at Amazon’s warehouse facility in Robbinsville. Hand sanitizer stations are empty or out-of-order. There’s no access to disinfecting wipes to clean workstations, or gloves for handling shared equipment or cafeteria microwaves. Only in the last few days have temperature checks been implemented and facial masks made available. And while workers have been slightly spaced out, they still regularly bump into each other on the way to shipping items.
Our constituent likes her job and her coworkers. However, she is concerned for their safety and the health of everyone they come into contact with once they leave work. “We are a breeding ground of thousands,” she writes.
Every week, more coworkers test positive. Tensions are running high. “They say on the radio and TV they are taking extra precautions and cleaning, but this still is not happening,” she adds. “I’m afraid it’s going to take deaths in the building before it’s taken seriously.”
There is a clear disconnect between what Amazon says it is doing to protect employees and the conditions workers actually face each day on the job.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration and particularly the Department of Labor aren’t doing nearly enough to protect workers during this pandemic.
During the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published requirements enforcing the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommended hygiene procedures, with violators subject to fines. Yet despite having twice written U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, we’ve yet to see this administration take enforceable action to increase safety protocols across our economy for the millions of warehouse workers, TSA agents, health care professionals, grocery store employees and others who risk greater exposure and who cannot telework or take paid time off.
The absence of enforceable standards from this administration, however, is no excuse for private sector leaders to lag on workplace safety. As we strive to flatten the curve of new COVID-19 cases, big corporations like Amazon with virtually unlimited resources must step up to protect their employees.
Amazon must live up to its promises to provide employees with protective gear. Corporate leaders must listen to their workers on the ground, like our constituent, and ensure that all Amazon workers are fully aware of the two weeks of paid sick leave available to them so that they are not forced to choose between a paycheck and their health.
Finally, Amazon should acknowledge where its policies are falling short. Our constituent described one coworker at Amazon who was exposed to an employee who tested positive, but is still working because she has a toddler at home to support and is ineligible for unemployment. While Amazon says that individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are in quarantine are eligible for two weeks of paid leave, many workers showing symptoms are reportedly still struggling to access this paid leave.
The Centers for Disease Control’s updated guidance says essential workers who do not display symptoms can return to work so long as they wear face masks and other protective gear. Given the nation’s well-publicized testing shortage, that means it’s even more critical that Amazon ensure proper sanitary and social distancing procedures in every warehouse. There should be no daylight between what Amazon says it is doing to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the reality workers face on the ground.
Hardworking people throughout New Jersey and the nation are understandably anxious and afraid.
In the Senate we are fighting for expanded paid leave, hazard pay for essential workers in all applicable industries, and enhanced access to affordable health insurance.
We hope that Amazon’s corporate leadership will do everything in its power, as quickly as possible, to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Amazon has an important role to play in ensuring Americans receive essential supplies, but with that comes a responsibility to protect its workforce.###