This is the realization of a major threat to Amazon’s operations. Millions of people across the nation are cloistered inside their homes, many of them relying on the company to provide basic goods.
Amazon is already struggling to meet demand, and some employees feel they’re being unfairly endangered by working in warehouses filled with other workers. It’s unclear how deliveries could continue if the workers who sort, pack, and ship Americans’ goods start getting sick in droves.
Though two office workers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters have been diagnosed with COVID-19, this is the first confirmed case of the disease among the company’s hourly warehouse employees in the United States. These workers make up the majority of Amazon’s 600,000-strong workforce.
According to the text, which was sent by a member of a workers’ group called Amazonians United, management sent day-shift workers home in order to disinfect the sorting facility, known as DBK1. Jonathan Bailey, an employee who sorts packages at the Queens facility, told me that workers were not notified of the positive case by Amazon management; he learned of it from other employees. He said workers believed that they were still expected to report for their night shift. In an email to The Atlantic, Amazon denied this, saying that it notified all associates about the positive test, and that workers were not expected to come in for their night shift.
The incident rattled some of the warehouse workers, who already feel they are being underpaid for a risky job: continuing to work in close proximity to others during a dangerous pandemic. “This clearly shows a disregard for our health and safety,” said Bailey, who is also a member of Amazonians United.
On March 11, Amazon announced that all employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in quarantine would receive two weeks of sick pay. In addition, Amazon gave hourly workers unlimited unpaid time off through the end of March.
But some Amazon workers—including those in New York City, where positive cases have spiked sharply in the past 48 hours—have expressed concern that these measures have been insufficient to protect them from the coronavirus. As of this writing, there are 1,871 known cases of the coronavirus in the city, and officials expect that number to rise dramatically. What’s more, research suggests that the virus can live on cardboard for 24 hours, so there’s a possibility that packages sick employees send may be contagious.