Coronavirus pandemic forces Amazon to boost safety measures, amid anger from politicians, workers


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Amazon said it is taking increased safety measures, including checking temperatures of its associates, as the company is under fire from politicians and its own workers for allegedly lax working conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations Dave Clark wrote in a blog post the company started temperature checks at “select sites around the U.S.” on March 29, to ensure employees are healthy when they get to work, adding they are now checking more than 100,000 employees per day. Anyone with a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit will be sent home and are only allowed back after they’ve been fever-free for three days, Clark wrote.

“The complete rollout of temperature checks across our entire U.S. and European operations network and Whole Foods Market stores is expected by early next week, at which point we will be testing hundreds of thousands of people daily,” Clark added.

In this Aug. 3, 2017, file photo, workers prepare to move products at an Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In this Aug. 3, 2017, file photo, workers prepare to move products at an Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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In addition to temperature checks, Amazon said it has finally been able to secure the “millions of masks” it ordered weeks ago. “Masks will be available as soon as today in some locations and in all locations by early next week,” Clark wrote. “Any N-95 masks we receive we are either donating to healthcare workers on the front lines or making them available through Amazon Business to healthcare and government organizations at cost.”

Clark also added that Amazon had filled 80,000 of the additional 100,000 jobs it recently announced in response to the recent surge in demand due to the pandemic.

In March, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote a letter to his employees thanking them for their hard work, but added that “very few” of the orders of “millions of face masks” had been filled to that point, as Bezos acknowledged the ongoing constraints around the world, with priority being given to health care professionals.

“It’s easy to understand why the incredible medical providers serving our communities need to be first in line,” Bezos wrote at the time. “When our turn for masks comes, our first priority will be getting them in the hands of our employees and partners working to get essential products to people.”

Amazon has come under fire after several workers at its fulfillment centers around the country have contracted COVID-19, including one in Staten Island, N.Y. Christian Smalls, a former worker at the Staten Island fulfillment center, demanded that the Jeff Bezos-led company close its Staten Island fulfillment center for a deep cleaning after a worker tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-March.

Smalls, along with allegedly more than 100 workers (a number Amazon disputes), walked off the job at about 12:30 p.m. Monday, the New York Post reported.

Following the news of Smalls’ termination, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio ordered an investigation into the incident.

New York Attorney General Letitia James also issued a statement, saying “it is disgraceful” Smalls was terminated after he “bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues.”

Amazon disputed Smalls was fired for standing up for his fellow workers, telling Fox News it terminated him because he violated several terms of his employment.

“Mr. Smalls received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk,” a spokesman said. “He was also found to have had close contact with a diagnosed associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and was asked to remain home with pay for 14 days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world. Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came onsite today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk. This is unacceptable and we have terminated his employment as a result of these multiple safety issues.”

Smalls has not yet responded to a request for comment from Fox News.

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A source familiar with Amazon noted the company has boosted its pay at the Staten Island fulfillment center, as well as its other fulfillment centers, giving workers an additional $2 per hour on top of the regular wages at the facility, which range between $17.50 and $23 an hour. They also receive double time for overtime and the company recently instituted daily temperature screenings at the fulfillment center, which houses some 2,500 employees.

In March, a group of four U.S. senators, including Bernie Sanders I-Vt. and Cory Booker, D-N.J., wrote a letter to Bezos expressing their concern about the health and safety of Amazon warehouse workers. Democratic presidential candidate Sanders has been a vocal critic of Amazon.

The Washington Post, which is also owned by Bezos, reported that Amazon workers at 10 warehouses around the country have tested positive for COVID-19.

On March 11, Amazon announced it would give all employees diagnosed with COVID-19 – and those placed into quarantine – up to two weeks of pay.

As of Thursday morning, more than 952,000 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, including more than 216,000 of which are in the U.S., the most impacted country on the planet.

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Fox News’ Vicki Choi, Gillian Turner and Lissa Kaplan contributed to this story.



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