Amazon yesterday disclosed that more than 19,000 of its workers have contracted the coronavirus this year, representing 1.4 percent of its overall 1.37 million workers across fulfillment centers and Whole Foods stores.
CNBC reports labor advocates have been pressing Amazon hard to provide more protection to workers worried about contracting the virus. At least eight workers have died from COVID-19 this year, but the company has not updated those numbers recently. Yesterday's disclosure marks the first time Amazon has revealed data on the spread of the virus among its workforce.
Amazon is killing it — The company earlier this year said it would spend $4 billion on measures to protect workers, including distributing protective gear and offering paid time off to those who test positive for COVID-19. Amazon eventually hopes to test its entire workforce every two weeks.
That sounds like a lot, but the coronavirus pandemic has been great for Amazon's business, leading to a surge in orders as many retail stores were shuttered or forced to limit capacity. It initially offered warehouse workers an extra $2 per hour in hazard pay, but phased that out at the end of May in favor of one-time bonuses. Without a union, no protections are guaranteed and the company can end them at any time.
Amazon's stated promises are also sometimes at a disconnect with reality. The company often says it has strong safety measures in place, but a recent investigation by Reveal uncovered internal records indicating that the rate of serious injury inside Amazon warehouses is double the industry standard. In warehouses with particularly high rates of injury, managers have in the past rejected appropriate care for injured workers because offering it would trigger a written report of the incident.
The data disclosed yesterday also conveniently does not include the thousands of independent contractors who deliver packages.
Workers need a union — Amazon's front-line workforce in the U.S. isn't unionized, making it difficult to push for better working conditions and pay. In Spain and Germany where its workers are unionized, Amazon offers salaried positions and benefits packages that have been negotiated through collective bargaining. The company has aggressively fought back against efforts to unionize in the U.S.
Considering that the global COVID-19 death toll recently surpassed one million, it's safe to say that the seriousness of contracting the virus should not be downplayed. And workers making already low wages are in a precarious position should they fall ill. Workers may feel they need to continue on the job until long after they should, infecting others in the process.
Amazon has doubled its profit during the pandemic, but at the expense of its workers. The same workers who, mind you, make its business possible.