Brown, Blumenthal, Sanders, Warren, Baldwin to Bezos: Release Comprehensive Data on Covid-19 Infection Rates for All of Amazon’s Workers



Amazon’s Unwillingness to Release Comprehensive Data in Line with Company’s Disregard for Workers’ Safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), urged Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to release comprehensive data on COVID-19 infection rates among their workers. Last month, Amazon released incomplete, potentially misleading data for part of its workforce revealing that more than 19,000 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, which it revealed only after pressure from 13 attorneys general. Comprehensive infection data is essential to track the spread of the virus and to properly implement worker safety measures.

“Your company’s disregard for workers’ safety was abundantly clear before the pandemic, which means the risk to your workers is even greater during this public health emergency,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “We urge you to release comprehensive data on COVID-19 infection rates for all of Amazon’s workers and demand that you take additional, immediate steps to protect the health and safety of your workers.” 

The senators asked the Amazon CEO a series of questions to better understand the risk his company’s workers face and the policies he’s implemented to keep workers safe given Amazon’s claim that its top concern is ensuring the health and safety of its employees.

In March, the senators pressed Amazon on workplace safety, following disturbing reports that the tech company was continuing to implement practices that could be hazardous to workers – and by extension, all of its consumers – in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. The letter came on the heels of news that the first Amazon warehouse employee in the U.S. had tested positive for COVID-19.

Full text of the letter is below and here.

 

November 18, 2020

Jeff Bezos

Chief Executive Officer

Amazon.com, Inc.

410 Terry Ave. North

Seattle, WA 98109

Dear Mr. Bezos:

We write to express our concern regarding the number of Amazon employees who have contracted COVID-19.  We agree that companies, particularly those as large and influential as Amazon, should publicly release data on COVID-19 infection rates among their workers.  We note, however, that Amazon had to be pressured by 13 U.S. attorneys general before it released data.  In addition, we are troubled that you provided incomplete data for only part of your workforce and that you attempted to downplay the fact that more than 19,000 of your employees have tested positive for COVID-19.  Your company’s disregard for workers’ safety was abundantly clear before the pandemic, which means the risk to your workers is even greater during this public health emergency.  We urge you to release comprehensive data on COVID-19 infection rates for all of Amazon’s workers and demand that you take additional, immediate steps to protect the health and safety of your workers.

While we strongly support major employers releasing COVID-19 infection data for their workers, it is essential that the data released are comprehensive, accurate, and reflective of epidemiology reporting standards.  Unfortunately, Amazon’s data are not.  On October 1st the company announced that 19,816 employees had tested positive or were presumed positive for COVID-19 between March 1 and September 19, 2020.[1]  Cumulative data, however, do not reveal how infection rates have changed over time, and they offer no insights into whether Amazon’s workers are increasingly at risk of testing positive or whether specific outbreaks caused the total number of infected employees to spike.  Amazon is well aware of the limited value of that statistic. In May, Dave Clark, Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations, acknowledged that the total number of COVID-19 infections among Amazon workers is “not a particularly useful number” to justify why the company refused at that time to make any infection data public.[2]  Public health experts typically report infection rates on a daily basis as well as weekly averages to accurately reflect trends in new cases.[3]  In order to fully assess the toll of COVID-19 on Amazon’s workers, it is imperative that the company report the number of infections on a daily and weekly basis for the time period above and on an ongoing basis until the public health emergency has been declared over.

It is also important for the company to provide full transparency on the number of workers who have died from COVID-19.  According to news reports, multiple workers at Amazon fulfillment centers have succumbed to the virus,[4] but the company has failed to provide facility-level data on these fatalities.  Providing complete data on COVID-19 fatalities at each Amazon facility is necessary to keeping your workers and the public informed about the health risks workers face at your company.

Furthermore, it is insufficient for Amazon to compare its employee infection rates to state-level infection rates.[5]  This pandemic has revealed the importance of tracking community spread of COVID-19, including workplace-specific hotspots.  Amazon’s data offer no such localized information because they are not broken down by facility and are not analyzed in the context of community infection rates.  In addition to using state-level infection rates, the company selected the expected infection rate in each state as opposed to the actual infection rate in each state.[6]  Doing so may have the effect of making Amazon’s infection rate look relatively lower than is accurate.  To fully inform the public and your workers about the impact of COVID-19 on the company, Amazon must republish the data so that it reveals the number of new infections and weekly average of new cases at each facility.  In addition to helping Amazon better mitigate the spread of the virus among the workers, publishing more comprehensive data will allow public health experts to compare these statistics to the actual infection rates of the communities in which the facilities operate and to provide a more accurate picture of the infection rates among Amazon workers.

Amazon provided COVID-19 data only for its direct employees, which makes it impossible to determine the impacts of COVID-19 on all of Amazon’s workers, particularly its frontline delivery workers.  To deliver billions of packages, the company relies on independent contractors through Amazon Flex[7] and other workers through various Delivery Service Partners that are subcontracted by Amazon to deliver packages.[8]  Amazon acknowledged the risks these workers face when it established the Amazon Relief Fund to support them, including by allowing them to apply for grants to cover their pay if they were diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in quarantine.[9]  The company claims it established its COVID-19 testing regimen “as part of [y]our effort to keep [y]our front-line employees safe,” but failing to include all of your frontline workers in your COVID-19 data prevents policymakers and the public from fully understanding the impact COVID-19 has had on your company’s workers, their families, and their communities.  Amazon should collect and publish data on COVID-19 infection rates on its complete workforce, including all of the delivery workers hired through Amazon Flex and the company’s Delivery Service Partners.

Workplace safety during COVID-19 requires workers at a minimum to have adequate personal protective equipment, paid leave if they were exposed or feel ill, sufficient time and space to wash their hands, staggered entrances, exits, and breaks, and the ability to socially distance while performing tasks.  Amazon claims to have “introduced or changed over 150 processes to ensure the health and safety of our teams.”[10]  As part of that effort, the company claimed to have relaxed its burdensome quotas and exacting method of tracking workers’ productivity so that these safeguards could be taken during the pandemic, but some of your workers say they were never informed of these policy changes.[11]  Moreover, a recent court filing by workers in Staten Island states that the company’s productivity measures and quotas have been reinstated and do not allow workers sufficient time to wash their hands or take other precautions.[12]

It is easy to believe workers who claim the company is not giving them sufficient time to protect against COVID-19.  Even before the pandemic, Amazon’s track record of keeping its frontline employees safe was abysmal, which may explain why the company’s turnover rate among its warehouse workers was more than 100 percent in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available.[13]  Last year, Amazon recorded an injury rate of serious injuries – which are injuries that are bad enough to prevent workers from doing their jobs – that was approximately twice the industry average.  In addition, according to the company’s own records, workplace injuries and illnesses increase during Prime Day, an October sales holiday invented by the company.[14]  Despite the pandemic, Amazon went ahead with Prime Day this year.   The company holiday requires workers to work mandatory overtime,[15] and union representatives warned in advance that workers could not safely accommodate the additional workload from the holiday.[16]  Amazon called the union’s concerns “scaremongering and irresponsible.”

It is not scaremongering or irresponsible to raise safety concerns on behalf of workers employed by a company with a uniquely appalling worker safety record and in the middle of a pandemic that has killed more than two hundred thousand Americans.

Amazon’s release of incomplete and opaque COVID-19 data for its workers is consistent with the company’s long-standing efforts to obscure its true workplace safety record but it flies in the face of the company’s claim that its “top concern is ensuring the health and safety of your employees.”[17]  Please respond to the following questions and request to help us and the public better understand the risks your workers face and the policies you have implemented to keep your workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic:

·       Amazon claims that it has consulted with “several of the world’s leading epidemiology and outbreak-response doctors” on the company’s response to the pandemic.  Identify these epidemiology and outbreak-response doctors and provide details of any recommendations provided by these experts that the company declined to implement.

·       Did Amazon consult with epidemiology and outbreak-response doctors, or any other public health experts, on the collection and publication of the company’s COVID-19 infection data?  If not, why not? If so, identify any medical professionals or public health experts that were consulted on the data.  Provide details of any recommendations provided by these experts that the company declined to implement.

·       Provide the number of new COVID-19 cases on a daily basis and weekly average basis since March 1, 2020 for Amazon employees.  Provide this data for each Amazon facility broken down by position and include the total number of workers at each facility.  COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color.  Provide a breakdown of the COVID-19 cases among Amazon employees by race.

·       Provide the number of new COVID-19 cases on a daily basis and weekly average basis since March 1, 2020 for any temporary workers (“temps”) who work in Amazon facilities.  Provide this data for each Amazon facility.

·       Provide the number of new COVID-19 cases on a daily basis and a weekly average basis since March 1, 2020 for any independent contractors employed through Amazon Flex and Amazon’s Delivery Service Partners.  Provide this data on as localized basis as possible.

·       Will Amazon commit to providing new COVID-19 cases on a daily basis and weekly average for employees, temporary workers, and independent contractors for the duration of the pandemic?

·       According to news reports, multiple Amazon workers have died from COVID-19.  Provide a complete accounting of fatalities from COVID-19 among Amazon employees, temporary workers at Amazon facilities, and independent contractors at Amazon Flex and Delivery Service Providers, including the date of their death and the facility at which they worked.

·       Amazon claims it provides at least two weeks of paid leave for individuals recovering from COVID-19 or quarantining as a result of exposure to it.  Are there any workers, ie. part-time or temp workers, at Amazon facilities who do not qualify for this paid leave?  How many workers have exceeded the two weeks of paid leave and any additional leave available to them to fully recover from COVID-19?

·       Indicate how many workers have applied for a grant to cover payroll through the Amazon Relief Fund.  Indicate how many individuals or companies that applied for the grant funds were approved and how many were denied.  In addition, provide the average size of the grant issued from the fund to date and the percentage of Funds that remain unspent.

·       Does Amazon accept COVID-19 as a work-related illness under workers compensation?  How many workers compensation claims have been filed by Amazon employees for COVID-19 infections? How many claims has Amazon or the company’s insurers accepted?  Has Amazon or the company’s workers’ compensation insurers challenged any effort by employees to claim workers compensation for COVID-19?  If so, how many?

·       Describe the policies Amazon has implemented in its facilities to allow employees to maintain a physical distance of a minimum of six feet.  Did Amazon consult with workplace safety and health experts, including ergonomics experts, in the development and implementation of this policy?  If so, identify those experts.

·        Multiple news reports have detailed the extent to which Amazon conducts surveillance on its own workers and uses the information gathered from the surveillance to take action against its workers.  Indicate whether Amazon’s internal surveillance efforts track workers’ complaints about unsafe working conditions.  Describe Amazon’s disciplinary policies with respect to worker complaints regarding workplace safety and COVID-19 safety compliance.

·       Amazon tracks workers’ time on-task, which directly correlates to their job performance.  The company announced in March that it was going to allow workers to “log out of their system to wash their hands whenever they choose, without worrying about impact on their performance,” [18] but some workers have indicated they were unaware of these policy changes and that they have since been reversed.  Explain how these policy changes regarding hand washing were communicated to employees.  In addition, clarify whether any of the COVID-19 policy changes announced and adopted in March have been rescinded and provide a justification in any case where they have.  Specifically, clarify whether workers are still able to wash their hands whenever they choose without an impact on their performance.

·       Did the company consider canceling Prime Day 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, what were the worker safety changes and considerations taken into account by the company during this decision making process?  Were any medical health professionals or workplace safety experts consulted during the decision-making process? Provide the names of any experts consulted on holding Prime Day 2020.

·        Amazon requires mandatory overtime for workers during Prime Day.  How many additional hours do Amazon employees, temp workers, and independent contractors during Prime Day season?

·       Given the increased volume of merchandise that must be handled by Amazon workers during Prime Day, workers expressed concern that they would not be able to observe pandemic safeguards while completing their assigned tasks.  Provide a detailed explanation of the steps Amazon took and identify the workplace safety experts that were consulted with to ensure that workers’ safety was not compromised as a result of the company moving ahead with Prime Day during the COVID-19 pandemic.

·       Amazon’s turnover rate among warehouse workers was more than 100 percent in 2017.  Has the company observed an increase in its turnover rate among warehouse workers since then and during the pandemic?  Provide data on turnover rates among your warehouse workers for 2019 and for 2020.

When Amazon published its COVID-19 employee infection data on October 1, the company emphasized the value in having other major employers provide similar data to enable Amazon to “benchmark [y]our progress.”[19]  We agree it is important to establish a baseline of Amazon’s workplace safety metrics during the COVID-19 pandemic and to compare that to other online retailers.   Unfortunately, the data published by Amazon do not allow for proper understanding or tracking of COVID-19 infection rates among your workers.  We ask that you provide detailed answers to the questions above by December 4, 2020 to ensure the company provides your workers, the public, and policymakers a full accounting of the effect of COVID-19 on the company and your workers.

Americans’ reliance on packages for household items has increased during the pandemic,[20] and Amazon has benefited spectacularly from this uptick in e-commerce.[21]  Your company claims it has spent and will continue to spend tens of millions of dollars to keep its workers safe; however, your record of putting profits before workers’ well-being was apparent before the pandemic.  And the fact that more than 19,000 of your employees have contracted COVID-19 underscores the extent to which they continue to risk their lives at work.  We urge Amazon to make public comprehensive and accurate data on COVID-19 infections among your workers and to take all steps necessary to safeguard the workers responsible for your company’s success.  Amazon workers should not have to risk their health and safety for their paychecks.

Sincerely,

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