News | June 6th, 2020

Health Concerns Beset Amazon Workers Amidst COVID-19

By: Heaven Jones
Health Concerns Beset Amazon Workers Amidst COVID-19

Amazon has been one of the main sources for essential items during the COVID-19 pandemic. With Amazon having more than 175 fulfillment centers around the world and touting an unrivaled one-day shipping option, it would seem as though workers’ safety would be prioritized. 

Since the subscription service has seen a recent influx in sales, Amazon workers have swiftly turned into essential workers. Expressing their concerns about positive coronavirus cases in their fulfillment centers, many workers across the globe have voiced their fear of contracting the virus at work. They’ve continuously begged Amazon to close down and even went to the lengths of staging walkouts, protests and social media campaigns that call for action. Flooded with concerns, centers had no choice but to make drastic changes.  

Early April, Mario Crippen, an Amazon warehouse stower from Romulus, Mich., shared his concerns with CNBC  on how Amazon is no longer only shipping essential items but also not doing enough to protect their workers.

“Going to work is kind of scary,” said Crippen to CNBC. “We have a silent killer inside of our job and Amazon is not taking the proper precautions to slow the spread or even stop the spread.”

Warehouses are breeding grounds for germs with workers from different locations delivering cargo each day. Due to workers testing positive for COVID-19, Amazon warehouses began tripling the sizes of their cleaning teams, temporarily closing some fulfillment centers to perform deep sanitizations and providing essential materials for their employees. Crippen didn’t feel as if the company’s changes have had much positive effect. Many workers rather the company shut down or provide more necessary action for its employees. 

Workers outside Amazon fulfillment center in the Staten Island borough of New York protest conditions in the company’s warehouse in March. Photo Courtesy Bebeto Matthews, Associated Press.

 Due to the little or no in-store availability, the centers have received an uptick in bulk orders of hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, toilet tissue and other sanitization products. Yet, workers think twice when they are packing non-essential items such as game controllers, energy drinks and even sex toys. 

Although Crippen feels at risk at his Michigan center, many workers like Shayauna Holland feel different.

“Every day they provide us with masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and wipes for our vans,” said the Amazon delivery driver in Jacksonville, Fla. “They try to promote social distancing but to be in a station full of people you cannot really be six feet apart although our company does try the best they can.”

Holland added that the company is “even going to the lengths of giving out infractions” if employees fail to adhere to the new COVID-19 policies.

In March, Yahoo Finance reported that Amazon saw an increase of 32% in demand, which is similar to their demand during the holiday season. With the unforeseen surge in orders, the company has had no choice but to hire more workers and increase the stops of delivery drivers. 

“The volume has increased tremendously,” said Amazon delivery driver Chris Mobley in Jacksonville, Fla. He said the volume of his daily route pales in comparison to his route now. 

Even though there has been a recent influx in packages and stops, workers are expected to still fulfill all orders during their 10-hour shift. They even have to load all packages themselves, no matter the weight, due to the company’s social distancing guidelines. 

“Before [COVID-19], I would have about 120 stops and as far as packages there would be a little over 130. Now, they give us 300 plus packages and 190 or more stops,” said Mobley.

Mobley said he neither feels extremely at risk or compelled to compulsively abide by warehouse rules.

“For me, nothing really changed. I still had the mindset that I wasn’t going to get [COVID-19],” Mobley said regarding the concerns about the safety of his work environment. “They would tell us to wear gloves all the time but I would just wear them sometimes. I just wasn’t as detailed as others.”

Amazon COVID-19 policies require all workers to receive temperature checks upon arrival to the fulfillment center where they hand out N-95 masks and working gloves. Masks are required, but gloves, on the other hand, are only strongly suggested.

The warehouse environment for Amazon workers varies per location and the company has instituted preventative measures, but feelings still vary among workers.