A worker at Amazon’s Staten Island, New York, fulfillment center has died of COVID-19, the company confirmed. Workers at the facility, called JFK8, have been calling for greater safety precautions since early March. While Amazon has made changes, the number of workers diagnosed with the virus continues to climb. According to alerts viewed by The Verge, at least 29 workers have fallen ill.
Managers notified several workers at JFK8 of the death yesterday. Amazon says the employee was last on site on April 5th and was placed on quarantine after he was confirmed to have COVID-19 on April 11th. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of an associate at our site in Staten Island, NY,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “His family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting his fellow colleagues.”
JFK8 was the first of several Amazon facilities to have workers walk out in protest of the company’s handling of COVID-19, in late March. Following that walkout, Amazon made a series of changes to warehouse processes, including mandating social distancing and screening workers for fevers. In its quarterly earnings release last week, the company said it planned to spend $4 billion — equivalent to its expected operating profit — on its COVID-19 response. But workers say the safety precautions are still insufficient and that their jobs often require them being in close proximity.
Amazon hasn’t released statistics on how many facilities have had COVID-19 cases or how many workers have fallen ill, but estimates tallied by workers from alerts they receive put the number of facilities at over 130 — some, like JFK8, with dozens of cases. (An Amazon spokesperson says the rate of infection at JFK8 is below that of the surrounding community and that the company believes the cases at the warehouses are not connected.) The first known death of an Amazon warehouse worker occurred on March 31st, an operations manager at Amazon’s Hawthorne, California facility. An employee at an Amazon warehouse in Tracy, California, died on April 1st. So far, Amazon has closed only one facility in the US, a returns-processing center in Kentucky, and only after it was ordered to do so by the governor. Amazon warehouses in France have been shut since April 16th, after a French court ruled that deliveries should be limited to necessities such as groceries and medical supplies.
Amazon has been on a hiring spree as it attempts to meet surging demand during the pandemic. It has hired 175,000 workers in recent weeks, and this month, it ended a policy begun early in the crisis allowing workers to take unlimited time off without pay. Since the policy ended, workers at JFK8 say conditions have been even more crowded than usual.
Amazon has also responded aggressively to worker protests. It fired the organizer of the first JFK8 walkout, Christian Smalls, and a memo obtained by Vice revealed plans to smear him. The New York Attorney General’s office said in a letter obtained by NPR that safety precautions at the warehouse were “inadequate” and the company may have violated the state’s whistleblower protection laws. Amazon also fired workers who raised safety concerns in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and a second worker at JFK8. Last month, the company fired two user experience designers after their group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, organized an event to hear from warehouse workers.
In the latest sign that unrest over warehouse conditions is spreading through the company’s white-collar workforce, Amazon senior engineer and vice president Tim Bray resigned over the firings of whistleblowers, saying that “remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised.”