[US] Amazon Should Disclose Number Of COVID-19 Deaths

28 MAY 2020

Last week brought the sad news that three more Amazon warehouse workers had died as a result of Covid-19, taking the total number of confirmed deaths to seven but the true number is believed to be far higher. An op-ed from CNBC asks Amazon to disclose exactly how many workers have died. (Link via original reporting)

Unofficial tallies - primarily maintained by worried Amazon employees who get text alerts whenever a colleague catches COVID-19 - reportedly place the total number of cases at 900 or more.

There could easily be more deaths and infections yet Amazon has refused to disclose the impact the novel coronavirus has had on its workers. Instead, the company only verifies deaths confirmed by the media, leaving an unclear picture as to how hazardous working conditions are for its employees.

However, Amazon does not agree that it should be more forthcoming. David Clark - Amazon’s operations boss - said in an interview with “60 Minutes” on May 10 that disclosing the number of “isn’t particularly useful.” Instead, he said, the focus should be on the rate of cases in relation to both the number of employees in a warehouse and the communities they live in. Though Amazon has yet to disclose that rate either. (Link via original reporting)

CNBC says Amazon should release the number of coronavirus infections and deaths among its workforce, or, at the very least, disclose figures showing the rate of the infections inside its warehouses. 

It argues that if Amazon disclosed its infection and death data, it would provide valuable insight to employers struggling with the same issues as Amazon, in addition to helping workers who need to make decisions about their paycheques and health

Walmart - Amazon’s largest retail rival - has also had a number of COVID-19 cases and deaths reported. It too has routinely refused to disclose its data and currently faces a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of a Walmart employee who died from the virus. Similar tragic stories have broken in other essential businesses like Tyson meat plants and in grocery store chains Costco and Kroger, dealing with the additional pressure of long queues and customers expressing frustration with social distancing rules.

Amazon has reportedly done better in communicating the safety measures it has taken to protect its warehouse workers. The company gives regular updates on its dedicated Covid-19 blog, which is said to exemplify an ideal template for large businesses grappling with health and safety during the pandemic.

The company has also, commendably, said it intends to reinvest all of the estimated $4 billion profits this quarter into its Covid-19 response. Hundreds of millions of those dollars of that will fund Amazon’s development of COVID-19 tests, testing is an essential part of getting employees safely back to work. The company said this year it could potentially spend $1 billion on testing alone. A contrast to the White House’s response to the testing shortage. (Link via original reporting)

But, the op-ed concludes, workers are scared as they do this essential work for a wage that does not reflect the risk they are taking. Amazon has the opportunity to draw attention to quite how dangerous such work is by becoming the first major retailer to disclose its employee death and infection counts.

Source: CNBC