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Amazon warehouses in Hawthorne and Eastvale are fined for coronavirus safety violations

A worker packs shelves as Kiva robots move them to fill orders at the Amazon.com warehouse in Tracy, Calif.
A worker packs shelves as Kiva robots move them to fill orders at the Amazon.com warehouse in Tracy, Calif. Amazon uses more than 15,000 of the robots companywide.
(David Paul Morris / Bloomberg)

The California agency that oversees workplace safety has levied $1,870 in fines on Amazon.com Inc. for coronavirus-related safety violations as it ramps up penalties for employers during the pandemic.

Over the course of several months beginning in May, investigators with California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, found that two Amazon warehouses — one in Eastvale in Riverside County and one in Hawthorne in Los Angeles County — failed to mitigate workers’ potential exposure to the novel coronavirus because they did not provide effective safety training to employees.

“Employees were unaware of key elements in the training materials, including but not limited to sanitation of workstations and frequently touched objects in the workplace,” the citations, dated Oct. 6, said.

Cal/OSHA investigated conditions at the Amazon delivery center in Hawthorne and the fulfillment center in Eastvale after employees in the spring called for a state investigation into their working conditions.

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The complaints, compiled by the labor advocacy group Warehouse Worker Resource Center on behalf of employees, alleged that Amazon did not adequately promote social distancing and didn’t stop operations to clean and disinfect parts of the facilities where infected workers had spent their shifts.

Amazon also failed to broadly inform workers of confirmed coronavirus cases, a May 1 complaint alleged. In one instance, workers at the Hawthorne delivery center learned an employee had died of COVID-19 in March through media reports instead of from Amazon, according to the complaint.

“We have great respect for OSHA, but we believe our training programs are more than adequate, and we plan to contest. We’ve invested heavily in training people about staying safe and healthy, from our onboarding for new hires to constant reminders, dedicated safety ambassadors, and ongoing training and communication about safety protocols, each day, through a variety of mediums,” Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox said in a statement.

Knox said that state health and safety regulatory agencies have inspected more than 100 Amazon facilities since March. "[Inspectors] have repeatedly commented that our processes went beyond compliance requirements,” she said.

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A warehouse worker at DLA8, the Hawthorne facility, said the company finally implemented online COVID-19 safety training about a month ago. She declined to be named, fearing retribution from her employer.

The warehouse worker described a crowded work environment where hot, tired workers pull packages from a conveyor belt while the company tracks their productivity rates. The worker, who has asthma, said she and workers around her sometimes take off their masks for a brief respite.

Workers consistently report that the company is not adequately sanitizing workstations and that they are left to clean themselves with minimal supplies or instruction, said Tim Shadix, legal director of Warehouse Worker Resource Center.

To date, the Amazon fines — $935 for each facility — are the smallest an employer has received from Cal/OSHA for a COVID-19 violation.

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Eric Frumin, safety and health director for Change to Win, a federation of labor unions, said it was “a mystery” how inspectors could observe Amazon warehouse working conditions and impose penalties only for a failure to train workers.

“I think Cal/OSHA has a lot to answer for here. How did they miss the hazard and only focus on the training that led to the hazard?” he said.

Shadix said he thinks Cal/OSHA is working with only a narrow set of enforceable rules regarding coronavirus-related safety because the state is still adapting to the pandemic.

Cal/OSHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Amazon workers say they need to know how many cases of coronavirus have hit warehouses and Whole Foods stores. As totals have climbed, the company has grown reticent.

Until recently, Amazon refused to release aggregate data on the spread of the coronavirus among Whole Foods and Amazon warehouse employees. Last week, the company said nearly 20,000 of its frontline U.S. workers had tested positive or been presumed positive for the virus, and provided a state-by-state breakdown.

The breakdown shows that infection rates in Minnesota and West Virginia were higher than in the general population. The company hasn’t released data on the number of infections in individual warehouses.

Since Cal/OSHA issued its first coronavirus-related citation Aug. 25, it has fined more than 20 companies a total of about $700,000.


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