As the virus spreads and cities lock down, Amazon workers across the country are finding themselves thrust into a new role: delivering goods to a nation in quarantine. But many fears that the safety precautions, benefits, and protections have not changed sufficiently to reflect the new reality, and that if their warehouses continue operating as everything else shuts down, many will fall ill.
Crowded workplaces, nonexistent screenings for symptoms, a lack of cleaning supplies, and a pace of work that made proper sanitation difficult It’s spent more than two decades building a robust logistics network capable of delivering almost anything to anyone, and now Americans stuck at home are turning to the company to supply necessities.
“I think what will wind up happening is the warehouse is going to stay open pretty much no matter what,” said Tyler Hamilton, a worker at a fulfillment center in Minnesota, where the governor has ordered schools and many businesses closed. While some workers have taken unpaid leave because they fear infection or need to care for children who have been sent home from school, many more say they cannot afford to go without a paycheck.
But while workers say they have been told to wipe down their stations and wash their hands with sanitizer, they’re still expected to maintain the same intense pace, which leaves little time to do so. Warehouse workers in Washington, California, and Minnesota say they are not being screened for symptoms when arriving at work and that their jobs often require them to stand far closer than the six-foot distance recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“If you try to stretch your hand, it would reach next person,” said Iraq Mohamed, who works on the packaging line in a Minnesota fulfillment center. Last week, Amazon workers in New York began circulating a petition calling for paid sick leave regardless of diagnosis, hazard pay, the shutdown of facilities if workers test positive for the virus, and an end to penalties for not meeting the rate.
“As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds and communities everywhere prepare for the worst, Amazon workers have become crucial in getting people their food, water, and sanitation supplies,” the group wrote. “Our packages go through so many hands before we even get them,” she said, noting that research found the virus can live on plastic for three days and cardboard for 24 hours.
Amazon typically hires thousands of temporary workers to handle the surges of Prime Day and holiday shopping, but it lets them go in January. On Amazon, a growing number of items are showing up as out of stock, and deliveries that normally take a day or two now stretch to a week or more.
On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it was hiring 100,000 new workers and raising wages by $2 per hour, but it’s unclear whether that will be enough to entice people to venture into a crowded warehouse during a pandemic. “All warehouses right now are going to have a very difficult time maintaining manpower,” says Marc Wolfram of the logistics consulting company MW PVL International.
Workers worry that if Amazon ’s recruitment drive succeeds, their warehouses will become even more crowded at a time when other businesses are being ordered to shift to telework, reduce staff, or close entirely. Local governments vary on what businesses are considered essential and can maintain operations, but so far most orders exempt warehouses, food, and other categories Amazon could reasonably fall under.
On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it was temporarily halting deliveries of nonessential items to its warehouses, an effort to meet surging demand for medical supplies and household staples, but also a move that would bolster its case that it needs to keep running. Many workers agree that the pandemic has transformed their jobs into something more essential, though several noted that they’re still shipping plenty of phone cases, house decorations, and other low-priority goods.
As a growing list of states order “nonessential” businesses closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, Amazon is giving warehouse and delivery workers letters to carry saying that they are engaged in essential work. “This employee is providing essential work to support Amazon ’s delivery of critical supplies directly to the doorsteps of people who need them.
In doing so, this employee enables members of the community to remain at home and reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission, including the elderly and other vulnerable persons.” The letter, written on Amazon letterhead, also includes a paragraph addressed to law enforcement with a phone number for verifying the carrier’s employment.
The Verge confirmed that similar letters have been given to warehouse workers and delivery drivers around the country this week, with minor variations by role and region. In Italy, France, and other countries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, residents are required to carry forms explaining why they’ve left the house.
The Department of Homeland Security considers warehouses, logistics, food delivery, and other sectors Amazon could reasonably fall under to be essential services, and millions of Americans told to stay home have come to rely on the company’s distribution network for necessities. To meet surging demand, Amazon last week halted deliveries of nonessential items to its warehouses and announced plans to hire 100,000 additional workers.
But the company has a long history of injuries and grueling conditions at its warehouses and delivery network, and as COVID-19 has spread, workers across the country have called for better safety precautions. Last week, a group of senators wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing concern for the safety of Amazon workers during the pandemic and asking what precautions are being taken.
Charlie Baker’s emergency order requiring that all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public has been extended until May 4. © Wave Coronavirus Am I an essential worker, Massachusetts Businesses and organizations not on the list of essential services are encouraged to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order.
While these businesses are designated as essential, they are urged to follow social distancing protocols for workers in accordance with guidance from the Department of Public Health (DPH). • Workers who perform critical clinical research, development, and testing needed for COVID-19 response.
• Healthcare providers and Caregivers including physicians, dentists, psychologists, mid-level practitioners, nurses and assistants, infection control and quality assurance personnel, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists and assistants, social workers, optometrists, speech pathologists, chiropractors, other providers of mental and behavioral health care, peer support and recovery coach workers, personal care attendants, home health aides and home care workers, and diagnostic and therapeutic technicians and technologists. • Hospital and laboratory personnel (including accounting, administrative, admitting and discharge, engineering, epidemiological, source plasma and blood donation, food service, housekeeping, medical records, information technology and operational technology, nutritionists, sanitarians, respiratory therapists, etc.
• Manufacturer workers for health manufacturing (including biotechnology companies), materials and parts suppliers, logistics and warehouse operators, distributors of medical equipment (including those who test and repair), personal protective equipment (PPE), isolation barriers, medical gases, pharmaceuticals (including companies and institutions involved in the research and development, manufacture, distribution, warehousing, and supplying of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology therapies, and medical devices, diagnostics, equipment and services) (including materials used in radioactive drugs), dietary supplements, blood and blood products, vaccines, testing materials, laboratory supplies, cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting or sterilization supplies, and tissue and paper towel products. • Blood and plasma donors and the employees of the organizations that operate and manage related activities.
• Workers performing information technology and cybersecurity functions at healthcare and public health facilities, who cannot practically work remotely. • Workers who coordinate with other organizations to ensure the proper recovery, handling, identification, transportation, tracking, storage, and disposal of human remains and personal effects; certify cause of death; and facilitate access to mental/behavioral health services to the family members, responders, and survivors of an incident.
• Public, private, and voluntary personnel (front line and management) in emergency management, law enforcement, fire and rescue services, emergency medical services, and private security, to include public and private hazardous material responders, air medical service providers (pilots and supporting technicians), corrections, and search and rescue personnel. • 911 call center employees (including telecommunications, dispatchers and managers) and Public Safety Answering Points and other police communication facilities who can’t perform their duties remotely.
• Public agency workers responding to abuse and neglect of children, elders, and dependent adults. • Workers who support weather disaster / natural hazard mitigation and prevention activities.
• Workers supporting groceries, pharmacies, convenience stores, farmers markets and farm stands, nurseries, greenhouses, garden centers, and agriculture supply stores, and other retail (including unattended and vending) that sells human food, animal/pet food and pet supply, and beverage products (including liquor stores), including retail customer support service and information technology support staff necessary for online orders, pickup and delivery. • Farmers, farmworkers, and agribusiness support services to include those employed in auction and sales: grain and oil seed handling, processing and distribution; animal food, feed, and ingredient production, packaging, and distribution; manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of veterinary drugs; truck delivery and transport; farm and fishery labor needed to produce our food supply domestically and for export.
• Workers in animal diagnostic and food testing laboratories in industries and in institutions of higher education. • Employees of companies engaged in the production, storage, transport, and distribution of chemicals, medicines, vaccines, and other substances used by the food and agriculture industry, including seeds, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, minerals, enrichment, and other agricultural production aids.
• Employees engaged in the manufacture and maintenance of equipment and other infrastructure necessary for agricultural production and distribution. • IT and OT technology for essential energy sector operations including support workers, customer service operations; energy management systems, control systems, and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition SCADA systems, and energy sector entity data centers; cybersecurity engineers; and cybersecurity risk management.
• Workers who produce, process, ship and handle coal used for power generation and manufacturing. • Retail fuel centers such as gas stations and truck stops, and the distribution systems that support them.
• Workers repairing water and wastewater conveyances and performing required sampling or monitoring, including field staff. • Workers who maintain digital systems' infrastructure supporting water and wastewater operations.
• Employees of firms providing services, supplies, and equipment that enable warehouse and operations, including cooling, storing, packaging, and distributing products for wholesale or retail sale or use. • Workers responsible for operating and dispatching passenger, commuter and freight trains public transportation and buses and maintaining rail and transit infrastructure and equipment.
• Postal, parcel, courier, last-mile delivery, and shipping and related workers, to include private companies. • Employees who repair and maintain motor vehicles, subway and rail vehicles, rolling stock, buses, aircraft, rail equipment, marine vessels, bicycles, and the equipment and infrastructure that enables operations that encompass movement of cargo and passengers.
• Workers, including contracted vendors, who support the operation, distribution, maintenance, and sanitation, of air transportation for cargo and passengers, including flight crews, maintenance, airport operations, those responsible for cleaning and disinfection, and other on and off- airport facilities workers. • Workers who support the operation, inspection, and maintenance of essential dams, locks and levees.
• Workers who support the inspection and maintenance of aids to navigation, and other government provided services that ensure continued maritime commerce. • Workers who support the operation, maintenance and public safety of parks, forests, reservations, conservation restrictions, wildlife management areas, water supply protection lands, and other critical natural resources and open space for passive recreation.
• Maintenance of communications infrastructure- including privately owned and maintained communication systems- supported by technicians, operators, call -centers, wire line and wireless providers, cable service providers, satellite operations, Internet Exchange Points, Points of Presence, Network Access Points, back haul and front haul facilities, and manufacturers and distributors of communications equipment. • Engineers, technicians and associated personnel responsible for infrastructure construction and restoration, including contractors for construction and engineering of fiber optic cables, buried conduit, small cells, other wireless facilities, and other communications sector-related infrastructure.
This includes construction of new facilities and deployment of new technology as these are required to address congestion or customer usage due to unprecedented use of remote services. • External Affairs personnel to assist in coordinating with local, state and federal officials to address communications needs supporting COVID-19 response, public safety, and national security.
• Workers who support client service centers, field engineers, and other technicians and workers supporting critical infrastructure, as well as manufacturers and supply chain vendors that provide hardware and software, support services, research and development, and information technology equipment (to include microelectronics and semiconductors), and HVAC and electrical equipment for critical infrastructure, and test labs and certification agencies that qualify such equipment (to include microelectronics, optoelectronics, and semiconductors) for critical infrastructure, including data centers. • Workers needed to preempt and respond to cyber incidents involving critical infrastructure, including medical facilities, Slot governments and federal facilities, energy and utilities, and banks and financial institutions, securities/other exchanges, other entities that support the functioning of capital markets, public works, critical manufacturing, food & agricultural production, transportation, and other critical infrastructure categories and personnel, in addition to all cyber defense workers (who can't perform their duties remotely).
• Federal, State, and Local, Tribal, and Territorial employees who support Mission Essential Functions and communications networks. • Workers who maintain digital systems' infrastructure supporting other critical government operations.
• Workers necessary for the manufacturing of metals (including steel and aluminum), industrial minerals, semiconductors, materials and products needed for medical supply chains, and for supply chains associated with transportation, energy, communications, information technology, food and agriculture, chemical manufacturing, nuclear facilities, wood products, commodities used as fuel for power generation facilities, the operation of dams, water and wastewater treatment, processing and reprocessing of solid waste, emergency services, and the defense industrial base. • Workers who produce or manufacture parts or equipment that supports continued operations for any essential services and increase in remote workforce (including computing and communication devices, semiconductors, and equipment such as security tools for Security Operations Centers (SoCs) or data centers).
• Workers who maintain digital systems' infrastructure supporting hazardous materials' management operations. • Workers who are needed to provide, process and maintain systems for processing, verification, and recording of financial transactions and services, including payment, clearing, and settlement; wholesale funding; insurance services; consumer and commercial lending; and capital markets activities).
• Workers who are needed to maintain orderly market operations to ensure the continuity of financial transactions and services. • Workers who are needed to provide business, commercial, and consumer access to bank and non-bank financial services and lending services, including ATMs, lending and money transmission, and to move currency, checks, securities, and payments (e.g., armored cash carriers).
• Workers supporting the operation and maintenance of facilities (particularly those with high risk chemicals and/ or sites that cannot be shut down) whose work cannot be done remotely and requires the presence of highly trained personnel to ensure safe operations, including plant contract workers who provide inspections. • Workers who support the essential services required to meet national security commitments to the federal government and U.S. Military.
These individuals include, but are not limited to, space and aerospace; mechanical and software engineers (various disciplines), manufacturing/production workers ; IT support; security staff; security personnel; intelligence support, aircraft and weapon system mechanics and maintainers; and sanitary workers who maintain the hygienic viability of necessary facilities. • Personnel working for companies, and their subcontractors, who perform under contract or subcontract to the Department of Defense, as well as personnel at government-owned/contractor operated and government-owned/government-operated facilities, and who provide materials and services to the Department of Defense, including support for weapon systems, software systems and cybersecurity, defense and intelligence communications and surveillance, space systems and other activities in support of our military, intelligence and space forces.
• Workers distributing, servicing, repairing, installing residential and commercial HVAC systems, boilers, furnaces and other heating, cooling, refrigeration, and ventilation equipment. • Workers responsible for the leasing of residential properties and RV facilities to provide individuals and families with ready access to available housing.
• Workers at hotels, motels, inns, and other lodgings providing overnight accommodation, but only to the degree those lodgings are offered or provided to accommodate the COVID-19 Essential Workforce, other workers responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, and vulnerable populations • Workers providing disinfection services, for all essential facilities and modes of transportation, and supporting the sanitation of all food manufacturing processes and operations from wholesale to retail.
• Workers necessary for the installation, maintenance, distribution, and manufacturing of water and space heating equipment and its components. • Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, builders, contractors, HVAC Technicians, landscapers, inspectors and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, businesses and buildings such as hospitals, health care facilities, senior living facilities, and any temporary construction required to support COVID-19 response.
Critical or strategic infrastructure includes public works construction including construction of public schools, colleges and universities and construction of state facilities, including leased space, managed by the Division of Capital Asset Management; airport operations; water and sewer; gas, electrical, nuclear, oil refining and other critical energy services; roads and highways; public transportation; steam; solid waste and recycling collection and removal; and internet and telecommunications systems (including the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services) • Workers who support infrastructure, such as by road and line clearing and utility relocation, to ensure the availability of and access to needed facilities, transportation, energy and communications.
• Workers supporting the construction of housing, including those supporting government functions related to the building and development process, such as inspections, permitting and plan review services that can be modified to protect the public health, including allowing qualified private third-party inspections accountable to government agencies.