Following a confirmed case of coronavirus in a U.S. Amazon warehouse, a group of four Senators has called on the company to do more to protect its workers from the outbreak, officially called COVID-19.
U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), have shared an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking him to take more direct steps in preventing the spread of the disease among Amazon workers and beyond.
“We write today to strongly urge you to prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of your employees who are also our constituents, friends, family, and neighbors,” the letter read. “Specifically, we are concerned by reports that managers at Amazon’s warehouses continue to hold ‘stand up’ staff meetings before every shift — meetings that result in dozens of staff crowded together in rooms for 10 or 15 minutes at a time — in contradiction of guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
The issue of “stand up” staff meetings is a particular concern. There have been reports that managers at Amazon warehouses require staff to have regular in-person meetings which require them to stand closer to each other than the six feet of distance recommended by health authorities to prevent transmission of the virus. Amazon workers who spoke to The Verge also complained of a lack of cleaning and sanitation supplies available for delivery drivers, and warehouse workers being obliged to maintain a rapid pace of work with insufficient time allotted for following safety and cleanliness measures.
The potential effects of these actions go far beyond the Amazon workforce. “Any failure of Amazon to keep its workers safe does not just put their employees at risk, it puts the entire country at risk,” the letter went on. “Americans who are taking every precaution, staying home and practicing social distancing, might risk getting infected with COVID-19 because of Amazon’s decision to prioritize efficiency and profits over the safety and well-being of its workforce.”
The letter writers asked a number of questions of Bezos, including clarifying what preventative steps Amazon is taking to protect its employees against the outbreak, asking whether the company would pay for testing its workers and whether the company will provide benefits like paid sick leave and hazard pay during this dangerous time.