Bezos visits Amazon warehouse, Whole Foods, amid worker safety concern

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Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc., speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Wednesday made a surprise visit to an Amazon fulfillment center and a Whole Foods store as workers have called on the company to better protect them against the coronavirus. 

The visit comes as Bezos and Amazon have faced criticism from warehouse workers, Whole Foods employees, union officials and legislators about a lack of protective measures for employees who continue to work amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The company tweeted a video of Bezos visiting the facilities, donning a face mask. Bezos is shown getting his temperature checked as he enters the fulfillment center, then chatting with warehouse workers as he walks through the facility. He also tours a Whole Foods location where he thanked employees throughout the store, joking that he couldn’t shake their hand. 

It’s unclear where the Amazon warehouse and Whole Foods store are located. Representatives from Amazon weren’t immediately available for comment. 

Bezos has maintained a relatively low profile amid the heightened criticism. Last month, he sent a memo to employees in which he praised them for continuing to work amid the outbreak and said he was working to obtain additional face masks for workers.

Whole Foods workers staged a nationwide “sick out” last week to call for paid leave for workers in quarantine and health-care coverage for part-time and seasonal workers, among other demands. 

Last week, three Amazon warehouses in Staten Island, Detroit and Illinois walked out on the job to demand that the company close their facilities after they reported positive cases of the coronavirus. Workers at the facility in Staten Island, known as JFK8, held another protest on Monday after Chris Smalls, a worker who organized the protest, was fired. Smalls says he was fired for leading the protest. Amazon said he was fired for violating social distancing guidelines. 

Amazon has downplayed the walkouts, saying only a small percentage of workers at the facilities participated in the protests and there was no disruption to operations.

The company has announced a number of new safety measures at its facilities in recent weeks. Amazon increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning at all of its sites and requires that employees sanitize and clean their work stations at the beginning and end of every shift. It has also started taking employees’ temperatures when they report to work and has supplied them with face masks.

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