The company’s reporting amounts to a “hidden pandemic,” according to a coalition of four unions interested in establishing representation for Amazon workers.
The labor group has sent a complaint to Assistant Secretary of Labor Douglas Parker, urging the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to investigate Amazon’s “disturbing pattern of misleading or grossly incomplete information provided to authorities around Covid-19 cases in its warehouses.”
“Amazon, the nation’s second largest private employer, put workers’ lives at risk by depriving OSHA of information about Covid-19 cases in its facilities, undermining the agency’s ability to identify workplace hazards and to hold the company accountable for unsafe conditions,” the group said.
Amazon did not challenge the number of cases cited by the group, but called its report an intentionally misleading effort to paint a false picture of the statistics that Amazon filed with OSHA.
“OSHA has acknowledged that assessing whether a Covid case was caused through exposure in the workplace vs. in the community is difficult,” said Amazon’s statement. “OSHA has provided employers with guidance about when to record cases as workplace related exposure and we have worked to follow this guidance throughout the pandemic. Additionally, we also communicate regularly with our employees and local health authorities.
“While we know we aren’t perfect, we’re working hard every day to listen to the experts and keep our teams and communities safe, which has included incurring more than $15 billion in costs for things like extensive contact tracing, on-site vaccine clinics and testing, and hundreds of process changes and health measures,” said the company.
The report that Amazon provided to employees in October last year said that the 19,816 positive tests were among the 1.4 million front-line US employees of Amazon and Whole Foods.
The company’s report also stated that an analysis comparing its employee infection rate to the infection rate among the general population showed that the Amazon infection rate was 42% lower than what would have been found in the overall US population during the same period. Amazon said it controlled for both age and geographic distribution of workers when doing the analysis.
But the main point that Amazon made in the October notice to employees is that it couldn’t say where those who tested positive had become infected.
“A positive test does not mean someone became infected as a result of their employment with Amazon — these individuals can be exposed in many ways outside of work,” the company said.
Specifically the AG charges that Amazon has failed to comply with requirements for cleaning and disinfecting workplaces where infected workers had been, as well as not notifying potential contacts of infected workers. James also said Amazon’s demands for productivity from its workers did not allow them sufficient time to “engage in hygiene, sanitation, social-distancing, and necessary cleaning practices.”
Amazon has denied it is not doing what is necessary to protect its workers, but the company has lost efforts to block James from pursuing the case in court.