State AGs ask Amazon to provide data on worker deaths, coronavirus safety

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Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, pictured on September 13, 2018.

Bloomberg | Getty Images

A group of 13 attorneys general from U.S. states and territories are calling on Amazon to provide data on the number of workers who have tested positive or have died from the coronavirus.

The group, led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey on Tuesday requesting a state-by-state breakdown of workers who tested positive or died from the virus at companies’ facilities.

So far, Amazon hasn’t shared how many workers have died from the coronavirus nationwide. It has also declined to provide a total number of workers who have tested positive for the virus at its facilities.

There are four known cases of Amazon warehouse workers who have died from the virus, as well as reports of at least one Whole Foods employee who died from the disease. Amazon employees have attempted to keep an unofficial tally of confirmed and unconfirmed cases nationwide, with one employee Reddit group estimating at least 400 employees have contracted the coronavirus.

In the letter, the group acknowledges that Amazon has taken a wide range of steps to better protect workers at its facilities, but “such policies are only as effective as compliance with them” at individual sites.  

“Amazon and Whole Foods are occupying a unique space during this crisis, providing millions of Americans with groceries and necessary supplies,” the letter states. “It is incumbent upon Amazon and Whole Foods as businesses and employers not to worsen the emergency by failing to take every possible step to protect their employees and their customers.” 

An Amazon spokesperson echoed the company’s previous statements on worker safety, saying the company has implemented more than 150 significant process changes at its facilities, including enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures, in addition to providing personal protective gear across its operations network. 

“Safety is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring a clean and safe workplace,” the spokesperson said. “We’ll continue to invest in safety, pay and benefits for our teams who are playing an invaluable role in getting items to communities around the world.”

Officials also urged Amazon to reinstate its unlimited unpaid time off policy and provide documentation that proves the company is in compliance with states’ paid sick leave laws. The group also called on Amazon provide proof that the company is complying with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration around workplace health and safety protocols amid the pandemic. 

The same group of attorneys general sent a letter to Amazon and Whole Foods in late March. In the letter, the group called on the companies to provide paid sick leave for their employees, noting that without these benefits, many employees would be forced “to choose between working sick or losing a paycheck.”

Tensions have been growing between Amazon and warehouse workers nationwide, as the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths at its facilities have climbed. Warehouse workers have called for the company to put in place greater safety protections, including providing paid sick leave and closing down facilities where there are positive cases for additional cleaning. 

Amazon has previously said it has gone to “great lengths” to keep facilities clean and make sure employees are following necessary precautions. In the company’s latest earnings report, Amazon said it would invest its expected $4 billion second-quarter profit in coronavirus-related efforts, such as purchasing additional safety gear for workers and building out its coronavirus testing capabilities, among other things.

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