BEIJING, March 26 (Xinhua) — Amazon has extended the closure of a warehouse dedicated to returns after three workers tested positive for the new coronavirus, the first known example of the online retailer’s indefinite vacancy at a U.S. facility in response to the pandemic,media reported. Earlier, employees at the warehouse expressed concern that they should not risk contracting infectionors or spreading diseases and return to work to dispose of returned sneakers and watches.
On Monday night, workers at Amazon’s Shepardsville, Kentucky, warehouse, where workers tested positive for the virus, were being shut down for 48 hours for “enhanced daily deep cleaning” to protect employees. Then, hours before the first workers were scheduled to return to work on Wednesday night. Employees were also called to the company to say that the warehouse would remain closed for more cleaning. Employees, who did not want to be named, said workers would still be paid their wages. Sources said that once the opening date has been set, the company will contact the workers back to work.
While businesses across the U.S. are closing to slow the spread of the virus, Amazon’s warehouses, like grocery stores, pharmacies and other important facilities, remain open during the virus pandemic. These companies implicitly require their employees to provide vital services at the risk of illness and possible spread of disease. As part of that effort, Amazon last week cut off shipments of non-essential goods to its warehouses to prioritize shipments of essential goods.
But in addition to the more than 100 multi-purpose warehouses in the U.S. that store small items such as canned soup or dry goods or large packages such as bulk diapers, toilet paper and televisions, Amazon has kept a small number of specialist warehouses open. Shepardsville’s specialist warehouse is dominated by sneakers, watches and T-shirts. Other similar specialist warehouses are scattered throughout the U.S. from Southern California to Georgia, and it’s hard to recalibrate its capabilities to store priority necessities, according to people familiar with Amazon’s logistics network.
For some workers in Shepherdsville, the idea of reopening the warehouse to process returns is dangerous. “It’s understandable if it’s for medical supplies and food, but that’s not the case,” one employee said in an interview. “Do people in quarantine really need to put on their new shoes at home?” “
In an e-mail to employees over the weekend, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of employees would not be able to hold their jobs and face the challenge of viruses, as white-collar colleagues who could work from home during the pandemic. “We are providing vital services to people around the world, especially those most vulnerable to injury in an outbreak, such as the elderly,” Bezos wrote. “People rely on our services. “
Amazon says it is following local public health guidelines to serve businesses that remain open during the virus pandemic. In states that have ordered widespread shutdowns, such as New York State, Amazon’s warehouses are not subject to closure orders because of their important role in the U.S. supply chain.
Some businesses have taken the initiative to close the measures. Last week, GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler all agreed to temporarily halt manufacturing to protect employees. Boeing initially refused to shut down the aircraft’s manufacturing facility, but had to shut down after an employee in Seattle died of the new coronavirus. Earlier this month, when a Kentucky employee became Wal-Mart’s first infected employee, the world’s largest retailer said it would follow the advice of the state health department and continue operating after cleaning and disinfecting.
Last week, Amazon began canceling warehouse shift meetings, staggered start-up slots and rearranging warehouse lounges to stop crowds from gathering. But these measures have failed to stop new coronavirus cases from occurring among the company’s 800,000 employees, both in the virus-hit European countries and in the United States. Last week, Amazon temporarily shut down a courier station in Queens, New York, after it was discovered that an employee had contracted the new corona virus. At least eight other states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas) have found cases of virus infection in Amazon warehouses, according to media and Amazon employees.
An Amazon spokesman declined to respond to questions about the number of cases in its warehouses or to adjust for the opening of non-essential goods warehouses.
“We have increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning at all locations, including regular sanitation of door handles, handrails, touch screens, scanners and other frequently contact areas,” the company said in an emailed statement. Amazon has been consulting with medical experts and public health authorities to determine what needs to be done after an employee becomes infected, the statement said. “We will investigate where (infected) employees have been in the building, how long they spent at work, and who they interacted with, and so on, to determine whether closures need to be taken,” he said. “
In the interview, 16 workers at Amazon’s warehouses across the United States expressed a climate of panic. They say the uncertainty surrounding the spread of the new coronavirus, management’s distrust and sometimes a nearby coughing colleague have fuelled rumors of infection. Some people cut short their working hours or simply didn’t come. Many people start eating lunch in the car instead of venturing to the lounge.
Amazon plans to hire 100,000 people to keep up with the surge in online orders during the nation’s isolation. The company is now trying to keep its employees on the job in the form of a $2-an-hour pay rise and extra overtime compensation.
An Amazon warehouse worker on Staten Island said he and his colleagues were excited about earning $2 an hour, but their mood changed dramatically Tuesday when they learned that a colleague had tested positive for the virus. He is expected to receive double his overtime pay ($40) an hour, more than double Amazon’s national starting salary of $15 an hour. But in the end, he chose to leave work early and go home.
The worker said he and his colleagues are processing orders for household necessities, such as cleaning supplies, but still customers are ordering non-essentials such as video game consoles and clothing. “We sell everything,” he said.
Amazon did not disclose personal information about sick employees, but said it would notify those in close contact with sick employees in each case. The general manager of the Shepardsville warehouse told employees via voicemail Wednesday that Amazon is working to determine which employees may have come into contact with sick employees during recent shifts and “will contact them immediately in accordance with the guidelines.”
Information on new cases is occasionally notified to staff by accident. Several employees said they heard about the cases by automated voicemail or text messages sent to all employees. But in Brownston, near Detroit, an Amazon employee said she learned of the company’s new coronavirus case on Facebook.
On Monday, at a warehouse in Oklahoma City, a colleague posted a positive test message on social media, an employee said. However, the human resources department did not confirm this. So many employees choose to leave during shifts and go outside looking for local news to verify news. Employees say Amazon typically keeps the warehouses open, or for less than a day to shut down, allowing workers to clean and disinfect.
So far, the Shepardsville warehouse has been an exception. The warehouse, which employs about 2,000 people, was built around a large returns division, according to a state economic development agency. In the warehouse, employees work back-to-back, open boxes, check that returns from trucks match the description of their condition on a computer screen, and wipe their shoes and clothes clean with alcohol and other detergents. Executives this week removed some employees from the work line, leaving more room for remaining employees and keeping them 6 feet away from each other as required by federal guidelines to slow the spread of the virus.
Before the Shepardsville warehouse was abruptly closed, managers attached tape to the floor every six feet, prompting staff not to stand too close to prevent the virus from spreading. Despite these measures, 10 employees interviewed by the media said the warehouse should be closed.
The employees said the building specifications of the warehouse did not keep people at a safe distance from each other. Some employees say it is difficult to find cleaning materials such as hand sanitizer and wipes. The warehouse has shipped some of its inventory to an All Foods supermarket in the Chicago area as part of a distribution effort, and Amazon’s warehouses across the country are scrambling to buy and distribute precious food.
Kentucky, where the Shepardsville warehouse is located, has ordered all non-essential retail businesses to close their customer-facing facilities on Monday and extend the closure order to all non-life-sustaining businesses on Tuesday, with more than 100 new crown cases. A worker at the Shepardsville warehouse asked a warehouse manager why they were coming to work. According to the employee, the warehouse manager responded at the time that customers wanted a quick return.
The employee was so worried about a family member with compromised immune systems that she said she would choose not to come to work if Amazon didn’t close the warehouse. “I think customers will understand,” she said. (The wind)