Of 20,000 Amazon employees who caught Covid-19, did just 27 really get it at work?
The available information ‘is screaming for an investigation’, Eric Frumin, the Strategic Organizing Center’s health director, says
Amazon provided “misleading or grossly incomplete” data about the number of Covid-19 infections potentially spread in its US facilities, according to a labour group calling on the federal government to investigate the company.
Of the almost 20,000 employees the company said contracted the coronavirus in 2020, Amazon maintains only 27 potentially caught it at work, according to the Strategic Organizing Center, which reviewed Amazon’s annual workplace illness and injury disclosures to the department of labour. In 2020, federal authorities required companies to report work-related Covid-19 cases.
The centre, whose members include the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, compared Amazon’s Covid-19 disclosures with county health department records about Covid-19 outbreaks in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and the Portland, Oregon, suburb of Troutdale. The three health departments found more than 750 Covid-19 cases among Amazon workers, but Amazon’s disclosures suggest none of them were work-related, according to the study.
“The available information is screaming for an investigation,” said Eric Frumin, the Strategic Organizing Center’s health and safety director. “How is it possible for the company to say it had 20,000 cases and only 27 were transmitted at work? That defies science and logic.”
Amazon disputed the study’s conclusions, saying that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had acknowledged the difficulty of proving whether a person contracted Covid-19 while on the job. Amazon interviews employees to determine exposure risk and has conducted 1,800 vaccination events at its facilities, according to spokesperson Kelly Nantel.
“These claims are intentionally misleading to try to paint a false picture,” Nantel said. “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 $15bn in costs for things like extensive contact tracing, on-site vaccine clinics and testing.”
Amazon benefited from a surge in online shopping during the lockdown period of the pandemic even as many retailers were forced to close stores. In 2020, Amazon’s sales jumped 38% to $386bn, and the company posted record profits.
The company’s e-commerce boom coincided with a barrage of criticism from workers, labour groups and government officials, who said Amazon didn’t do enough to protect workers and was stingy with Covid-19 data.
In November, Amazon agreed to improve its communication with California employees and local health departments about Covid-19 outbreaks and pay $500,000 to resolve an investigation launched in 2020 by the state’s attorney-general. In February, New York attorney-general Letitia James filed a lawsuit alleging Amazon failed to comply with workplace safety rules during the pandemic and retaliated against warehouse employees who voiced concerns. That case is pending.
Federal authorities should take a broader look at Amazon’s practices, said Steven Markowitz, an epidemiologist at the City University of New York and an expert in occupational risks.
“People are acting like the pandemic is over, but we’re still in trouble,” he said, citing the new Omicron variant. “OSHA says you have to make a good-faith effort to determine if a case is work-related, so you want to know how Amazon arrived at only 27 cases out of nearly 20,000.”
Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
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