Workers at Amazon’s Minneapolis-area warehouse in Shakopee MN -- the facility where 88 employees tested positive for coronavirus -- are up in arms about Amazon’s lack of response, saying that the company is essentially concealing the exact nature of what’s going on.
When questioned about the scene at the warehouse, workers told Digital Trends that managers would lie about anyone being sick until the warehouse was dazed with dozens of cases.
Some of the workers said that, in their estimation, the real number of positive cases might be higher than the 88 cases reported by the Star Tribune. Others stated that they didn’t hear about the new cases from Amazon’s managers, but from the media instead.
“From the beginning of this, they’ve tried to downplay and hide the extent of it inside the warehouse,” said William Stoltz, a three-year veteran at the warehouse. “I can see that worker safety is not the overriding concern. Keeping packages shipping is the overriding concern.”
Amazon’s blurry messaging
Despite all that Amazon says it’s doing for its workers, both Stoltz and his co-worker, Tyler Hamilton, said that Amazon’s effort to keep employees informed has been muddy at best.
In Stoltz and Hamilton’s opinion, the company’s text messages confirmed that there had been “cases” of COVID-19 in the warehouse and that the warehouse was being sanitized, but little else.
The texts shared with Digital Trends were fuzzy, informing workers of “additional confirmed cases” of the disease as opposed to hard numbers.
“They were in absolute denial that anything was wrong,” Hamilton said. “I figured maybe we had 30 or 40 cases, but 88! That’s shockingly high.”
A matter of trust
When the pandemic was still in its infancy, warehouse worker Habiq Mohamed alleged that management was lying about whether there were COVID-19 cases at that specific location. “I asked them how many people were sick, and they said, ‘oh, we don’t know.’ Amazon is not taking our health and safety seriously,” he said.
“People have to keep working when they feel sick, and they don’t tell us how many people are sick. They send us these unclear messages; just tell us the rate! Can you please just tell us the truth? We are grown people.”
Hamilton stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Mohamed, saying that workers at the warehouse can no longer trust the company or its local management.
“Honestly, it’s management’s fault. And a lot of it is corporate’s fault,” Hamilton fumed. “As long as I’ve been there, it seems like every couple of weeks or months, something happens where they shoot themselves in the foot.”
One of those self-inflicted wounds showed up in the break rooms of all places, Hamilton said. “They literally had TVs placed in the commons areas of the warehouses that had a recording from the General Manager playing on a loop that was saying ‘there are no cases of COVID here’ and ‘people are fear-mongering,’ and ‘why are they sowing fear at a time like this,’ and then as soon as they had the first case, they sent out a text, and they took all the TVs down.”
Workers say Amazon is in the dominant position here, leaving concerned workers little choice but to suck it up, run the risk of getting sick, or stay at home without pay.
“Each worker is put in a position where we’re having to make a risk calculation,” said Stoltz. “Are we willing to go into work if it means catching the virus? But going on leave means no money.”
Amazon denies workers’ claims
As you can imagine, Amazon says what Hamilton, Mohamed, and Stoltz are saying is false and that it’s practicing what it’s preaching.
“These claims are simply not true,” wrote Amazon spokesperson Timothy Carter in an email to Digital Trends. “We utilize a variety of data to closely monitor the safety of our buildings and there is strong evidence that our employees are not proliferating the virus at work -- what we see generally is that the overall rate of infection and increase or decrease of total cases is highly correlated to the overall community rate of infection.”
“Over the months of COVID-19, thousands of employees and partners have worked at our Shakopee site and we believe strongly people are not spreading the virus at work given the robust safety measures we’ve put into place,” Carter added.
Amazon enacts some protections
While Stoltz came down hard on Amazon, he did say that the Shakopee warehouse was actually doing some things right. The facility is using masks, temperature checks, and enacting social distancing -- all things Amazon has said it’s doing.
On top of the additional safety precautions that Amazon established, it’s also watching workers like a hawk to make sure those guidelines aren’t violated. Instead of the typical three-strikes-you’re-out way of keeping workers in line, Amazon has gone to a one-strike-you’re-out if someone defies the new six-foot social distancing rule.