Amazon says nearly 20,000 of its workers have had coronavirus
Amazon says that nearly 20,000 of its frontline U.S. workers have tested positive or been presumed positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
But the online retail behemoth, which revealed the data Thursday for the first time, says the infection rate of its employees is well below that seen in the general U.S. population. The disclosure comes after months of pressure from Amazon workers and labor groups calling for the company to divulge its COVID-19 numbers.
Amazon said in a corporate blog that it provided the data as part of its effort to keep employees informed and to share details and best practices with governments and other companies.
”We hope other large companies will also release their detailed learnings and case rates because doing so will help all of us,” Amazon said. “This is not an arena where companies should compete — this is an arena where companies should help one another.”
The Seattle-based retailer said that it examined data from March 1 to Sept. 19 on 1.37 million Amazon and Whole Foods Market workers across the U.S.
It said it compared its COVID-19 case rate with that in the general population as reported by Johns Hopkins University for the same period. Based on that analysis, if the rate among Amazon and Whole Foods employees matched that in the general population, Amazon said it would have seen 33,952 cases among its workforce.
Harry Sentoso, 63, went back to work at Amazon as part of the company’s hiring wave. Two weeks later, he was dead from COVID-19.
The company also said that it is conducting thousands of tests a day, which will grow to 50,000 a day across 650 sites by November.
Companies have no legal obligation to publicly reveal how many of their workers have contracted the virus, and few are doing so.
Employers do have to provide a safe working environment, which means that they must alert staff who might have been exposed to the coronavirus, according to guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that enforces workplace safety. They are also obligated to keep track of COVID-19 infections contracted on the job, and must report to OSHA if there is a hospitalization or death related to the disease.
In a statement emailed to the Associated Press on Thursday night, Walmart said that “Walmart associates’ rate of infection tracks, or is below, the current rate of infection of the general public nationwide.” The company did not explain why it doesn’t provide numbers.
As the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon has benefited from a stampede by consumers trying to avoid physical stores during the pandemic.
Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents grocery and meatpacking workers, called Amazon’s disclosure as “the most damning evidence we have seen that corporate America has completely failed to protect our country’s frontline workers in this pandemic.”
UFCW is calling for immediate action by federal regulators and a full congressional investigation.
“This titanic safety failure demands the highest level of scrutiny,” Perrone said.