Amazon Underreported COVID Cases in Workplace, Unions Say

Ralph Ellis

December 02, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

A coalition of labor unions says that Amazon vastly misrepresented the number of its employees who contracted COVID-19 on the job.

The Strategic Organizing Center says it examined reports Amazon filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in which the company contended about 20,000 of its employees came down with COVID by Sept. 19, 2020.

But in those OSHA reports, the company said only 27 employees caught the virus in the workplace during all of 2020, the SOC said in a 13-page paper outlining its complaints.

"The available information is screaming for an investigation," said Eric Frumin, SOC's health and safety director, according to Bloomberg Law. "How is it possible for the company to say it had 20,000 cases and only 27 were transmitted at work? That defies science and logic."

In its paper, SOC says Amazon put workers' lives at stake and undermined OSHA's ability to identify COVID safety problems, which the agency is required to do by law. Filing false reports with OSHA is a criminal violation of federal law, SOC says.

Amazon disputed the SOC's conclusions, saying OSHA acknowledges it's difficult to prove where a person caught COVID, according to Bloomberg Law.

"These claims are intentionally misleading to try and paint a false picture," Amazon spokesman Kelly Nantel told Bloomberg Law. "While we know we aren't perfect, we're working hard every day to listen to the experts and keep our teams and communities safe, which has included incurring more than $15 billion in costs for things like extensive contact tracing, on-site vaccine clinics and testing."

Amazon's business boomed during the pandemic with much of the American population locked down for long periods. The company came under scrutiny for its treatment of employees, especially in the warehouses.

Amazon was investigated by the California attorney general and agreed to improve communications with employees and health departments about COVID outbreaks, as well as pay a $500,000 fine, Bloomberg Law said.

New York's attorney general is investigating Amazon for not following workplace safety rules during the pandemic and retaliating against complaining workers.

SOC says it has about 4 million members from four unions: Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Communications Workers of America and United Farmworkers of America.

Sources

Bloomberg Law. "Amazon Accused of Under-Reporting Covid Cases Contracted at Work"

SOC. "Hidden Pandemic: Amazon's Secrecy and Obstruction During the COVID-19 Crisis"

Bloomberg Law. "Amazon Covid Settlement Spotlights Board Focus on Workforce, ESG"

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