A man working at Amazon’s massive Staten Island warehouse has died of COVID-19 amid national attention over the giant online retailer’s handling of coronavirus protection for its employees, labor advocates said Tuesday.
The unnamed worker’s death Monday prompted union advocates to demand Amazon shut down the 855,000-square-foot “fulfillment center,” dubbed JFK8, until it’s properly disinfected.
Dozens of workers made a similar demand March 30 during a walkout, alleging a lack of transparency and safety precautions just days before the deceased worker reportedly last clocked in at the warehouse.
“For a long time now, workers at JFK8 and other Amazon facilities around the world have been demanding safer working conditions — especially during this pandemic,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “Yesterday’s death unfortunately has shown the true cost of Amazon’s failure to provide a safe work environment.”
The worker last showed up at the warehouse April 5 and was placed on quarantine after he tested positive April 11, Lisa Levandowski, a spokeswoman for the shipping behemoth, said Tuesday. “At no time was he contact traced to any other employees.”
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of an associate at our site in Staten Island, NY. His family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting his fellow colleagues,” Levandowski said.
At the time of workers’ walkout, Amazon had announced just two positive cases, though employees believed the number was as high as 10. The Verge reported Tuesday at least 29 workers have fallen ill.
“We believe each of the cases at our Staten Island fulfillment center to be individual cases and believe they are not related to one another or linked at this time,” Levandowski said.
The company fired Christian Smalls, one of the workers who organized the protest and an outspoken Amazon critic, alleging he showed up at the warehouse despite being on quarantine.
“This is what I wanted to avoid. I stood up to prevent this from happening,” Smalls told the Daily News on Tuesday. “It was not a matter of how, it was when. How many more? Amazon, Jeff Bezos, how many more have to die?”
Worker advocates say the employee’s death show Amazon’s protective measures weren’t enough.
“Amazon must immediately close the Staten Island, New York facility and disinfect it. What the company claims it is doing is obviously not working,” Appelbaum said. “In order to protect its employees, there must be independent monitoring in all Amazon facilities, and not just empty promises. We cannot afford any further loss of life at Amazon facilities anywhere.”
On March 31, the online seller saw its first confirmed COVID-19 death, a manager at its Hawthorne, Calif., warehouse.
“Sadly, this tragic event is the predictable outcome of Amazon’s and Jeff Bezos’s reckless drive to profiteer off of the pandemic at any cost to Amazon workers, their families, and the public,” a coalition of workers rights advocates said in a statement Tuesday night.
“Workers have called for swift action including: closing warehouses, with full pay to all workers, for a two-week sanitization period; bringing in independent monitors and setting up worker-elected committees to implement appropriate safety practices; providing full PPE; and canceling all rate-of-work requirements that make it impossible to practice safe cleaning and distancing,“ reads the statement, signed by Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change, Deborah Axt of Make the Road New York, George Miranda, IBT New York President of Joint Council 16 and Maritza Silva-Farrell of ALIGN.
“Amazon, instead of heeding its workers’ warnings, moved to clamp down on whistleblowing by firing and retaliating against workers who dare to speak up,” the statement declared.