Amazon: Almost 20,000 staff examined optimistic for COVID-19


New York, October 2

Amazon said on Thursday that nearly 20,000 of its front-line US workers had tested positive or been presumed positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

But the online retail behemoth, revealing the data for the first time, said that the infection rate of its employees was well below that seen in the general US population.

The disclosure comes after months of pressure from Amazon workers and labour groups calling for the company to divulge the COVID-19 numbers.

Amazon said in a corporate blog that it provided the data as part of its effort to keep employees informed and to share details and best practices with governments and other companies.

“We hope other large companies will also release their detailed learnings and case rates because doing so will help all of us,” Amazon said, adding: “This is not an arena where companies should compete — this is an arena where companies should help one another.”

The Seattle-based company said it examined data from March 1 to September 19 on 1.37 million workers at Amazon and Whole Foods Market across the US.

It said it compared the COVID-19 case rates to the general population, as reported by Johns Hopkins University for the same period. Based on that analysis, if the rate among Amazon and Whole Foods employees were the same as that for the general population, it estimated it would have seen 33,952 cases among its workforce.

That is 42 per cent higher that Amazon’s actual rate.

The company also said it is conducting thousands of tests a day, which would grow to 50,000 tests a day across 650 sites by November.

Companies have no legal obligation to publicly reveal how many of their workers have contracted the virus and few are doing so.

Employers do have to provide a safe working environment, which means they must alert staff if they might have been exposed to the virus, according to guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that enforces workplace safety.

They are also obligated to keep track of COVID-19 infections contracted on the job and must report to OSHA if there is a hospitalisation or death related to the disease.

A perceived lack of transparency has left workers at various retailers, including Amazon and Walmart, to become amateur sleuths in their spare time.

Unions and advocate groups have taken up the cause, too, creating lists or building online maps of stores where workers can self-report cases they know about.

In a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Thursday night, Walmart said “we believe that Walmart associates’ rate of infection tracks, or is below, the current rate of infection of the general public nationwide”. It didn’t explain why it doesn’t provide numbers.

Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents grocery and meatpacking workers, called Amazon’s disclosure as “the most damning evidence we have seen that corporate America has completely failed to protect our country’s frontline workers in this pandemic”.

The UFCW is calling for immediate action by federal regulators and a full congressional investigation.

“This titanic safety failure demands the highest level of scrutiny,” Perrone said. AP



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