Several workers tested positive for Kovid-19 following the closure of an Amazon warehouse in New Jersey on Sunday that largely outlined the dangerous conditions that characterized this holiday season.
As a record number of customers filled their online shopping carts before the holidays, warehouse workers at the Robbinsville Township facility were laid off, which stretched far behind the scenes filling orders for some of the epidemic’s darkest days happened. While they were deemed “necessary” by state governments and rewarded with hazardous salaries or cash bonuses for working through the epidemic, many workers and workplace experts found that for the circumstances they faced, It was a little reward.
“It’s a risky job because of the amount of people in one place, and social disturbances are not always possible,” said Nick Theodore, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Urban Planning and Policy. It is clear that warehouse workers are “a vulnerable population”.
The holiday season has traditionally been an intense time for retail and warehouse employees, who now make up a growing share of the workforce that keeps the industry running. But with the dramatic increase in online shopping during the epidemic and the unique growth of the e-commerce supply chain, more workers than ever are packaged in long-time logging indoor warehouses.
A Target warehouse worker in New York, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told NBC News in December that since July, employees at his plant have been essentially working overtime shifts. He said that 150 to 200 people are working in shifts in a 1 million-square-foot warehouse, so it can always be difficult to practice social disturbances.
“It’s so hard, I won’t lie,” the activist said. “I don’t know that the public knows what our warehouse workers are doing to meet the holidays.”
Lakshya said that it has made efforts to implement social disturbances when employees are working. This week, the company began citing people for violating coronovirus safety measures. Target also said that when he schedules overtime at his distribution centers, they accept a role that needs it before contacting potential employees.
“We are committed to creating a safe and positive environment for our team,” said goal spokesman Brian Harper-Tibaldo. “We will continue to listen and appreciate any feedback shared from our team members.”
It is unclear how many warehouse workers across the country have been infected with the virus or died nationwide as a result of it. Harper-Tibaldo said the company did not disclose these figures. According to records obtained by NBC News, an Amazon warehouse in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, counted at least 81 cases.
According to research by NBC News, there have been at least 10 deaths among Amazon employees across the country, which was confirmed in September.
An Amazon spokesperson, Maria Boskheti, said the company had “invested millions of dollars to provide a safe workplace.” It states that it also supplies masks, gloves, thermal cameras, thermometers and hand sanitizers to its employees.
The company said there is “strong evidence” that its workers are not spreading the virus at work. It said that “in most cases” the case of positive viruses on its plants is lower than in surrounding communities. When it doesn’t, Amazon said “it usually relates to activity outside of work.”
After the holidays, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a list of recommendations for employers to keep warehouse workers safe. It has been suggested that employers employ an on-site workplace coordinator for coronovirus evaluation and control, conducting daily health screenings and rolling out flexible ill health policies. A former top official of the National Employment Law Project, an activist advocacy group, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said, but the recommendations have no teeth. Said Debbie Berkowitz, director of workplace safety and health programs.
“CDC guidelines are voluntary,” Berkowitz said. “They are not enforceable.”
An Amazon warehouse worker in Illinois, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said that even as orders rose, they were still expected to pack items within 6 minutes as determined by the company. This becomes an issue when workers need to contact a bin and have to wait longer to receive items so that they maintain a safe distance. However, if there is a lag, the computer system describes it as “off task”.
“I don’t think we are being considered essential workers,” he said in an interview. “There is a great danger here. Amazon is a good company, but I don’t think they care about us as workers as they should. “
Amazon said it supports people “who are not performing at the expected level with dedicated coaching to help them improve.” To enforce social disturbances, it vibrates work stations and break times to limit congestion. It also rolled out a “distance assistant”, which uses technology to provide live feedback to employees on social distancing on a 50-inch monitor. When workers “knowingly” violate the company’s social disturbance guidelines, they will receive a warning. On the second offense, he could be fired.
There are even greater problems for many warehouse workers hired through temporary agencies. Jesus Ruelas, a former Walmart employee in Ellwood, Illinois, said he was hired this year to work during the holiday season through Simos Solutions, a staffing placement agency. When he tested positive for coronovirus in October, he had to navigate the unemployment benefit system to support himself, while quarantining for two weeks because he benefits from Simos, not from Walmart. Under Walmart’s emergency leave policy, company employees must receive paid time so that they can show the virus or symptoms.
“You have companies making millions of dollars, but a lot of corporations don’t agree to pay money to house employees,” he said. “I was disappointed.”
Simos Solutions said its employees paid up to five days. It said that it also provided masks to its partners and required temperature checks.
Walmart said that the “majority” of people in its supply chain are staff members, not temps, and the need for temporary agency workers fluctuates throughout the year.
Carmen Martino, co-director of the Vocational Training and Education Consortium at Rutgers University, said that reliance on temporary employees through staffing agencies creates a lot of uncertainty about where they might go with employee safety concerns.
Martino said temporary employees are often stuck between the staffing agency and the contracted company. In these cases, “workers feel they have no place to turn,” he said.
Since the onset of the epidemic, OSHA has issued a penalty of approximately $ 3.5 million from citations as a result of 263 inspections for coronovirus-related violations.
“Kovid-19 is the single biggest occupational crisis of our lifetime,” Berkowitz said. “All those warehouse workers will have no one to call.”
For many warehouse workers, the only option is to face another day of work with increasing uncertainty. The Target warehouse worker in New York said there are no other work options in his area that pay enough to support himself and his 5-year-old son. His 10- and 12-hour shifts start at 4 in the morning, which gives him very little time to spend with his son. If his girlfriend was not able to take care of his son, he said he would not know what to do.
“If I was climbing a rock climbing a rock, I would hang with a finger,” he said. “what [the company] What is not really understood is that we are in the front line of this virus. … They do not understand how long we should stay away from our family to run this warehouse. “
With this month’s rollout of a long-awaited Kovid-19 vaccine, unions, trade groups and individual companies like Dordash and Uber have pushed their workers to the first line to vaccinate. Amazon sent a letter to the CDC last week requesting that workers at its warehouse, data center, and Whole Foods Market receive the vaccine “at the earliest possible time”. But with no comprehensive federal plan, individual states will decide who will be the first required employee to receive the vaccine.
In almost all states, health workers and nursing home residents are at the beginning of the line for vaccination. But where the country’s 1.2 million warehouse workers fall into that line is still unclear.
“Without deliberate planning, those who already find themselves in the ‘race from below’ will be in the last line for the vaccine,” according to a petition for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a Chicago-based logistics staff nonprofit advocacy group led by Warehouse Workers for Justice. “Using these workers’ preference for vaccines can mean the difference between life and death.”