The lawsuit filed by three Amazon warehouse employees has challenged the company’s contact tracking efforts, according to cNBC, a foreign news agency. Amazon reviews surveillance video to identify those who come into contact with an infected person, which does not comply with CDC guidelines on contact tracking. An occupational health expert says Amazon’s contacts are not tracking enough.
When Derrick Palmer, a worker at Amazon’s Staunton Island plant, or JFK8, learned that his executive at Amazon had contracted the new corona virus, he immediately notified the company. “I told them that I had been in contact with this person and that I might get infected with the virus and it could spread.” “
In an interview with CNBC, Palmer said he thought Amazon executives would tell him to go home to quarantine. The next day, however, the company’s executives let him go to work as usual.
Now, Palmer and two other JFK8 workers have filed a lawsuit calling for challenges to the company’s efforts to track and prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus among workers. They argue that the company has failed to follow appropriate guidelines from public health agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Amazon’s response to the new corona virus pandemic has been criticized by warehouse workers, politicians and state attorneys general. They argue that Amazon is too slow to provide personal protective equipment, temperature checks and other tools to keep employees safe. The company and its chief executive, Jeff Bezos, dismissed the accusations, saying Amazon had “spared no effort” to protect workers from the new corona virus.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Wednesday, said Amazon “tried to create a symptom of compliance” but failed in many ways to adequately protect workers from the virus, including “inadequate contact tracking.” Last week, the company notified employees of several new cases in JFK8, according to the lawsuit.
The employees did not seek financial compensation, but asked the court to issue an injunction requiring Amazon to comply with public health standards. “Amazon claims responsibility for ‘contact tracing’, even refusing to take the most basic steps to track worker contacts, and in some cases deliberately concealing information about who is infected with the virus from colleagues,” the lawsuit said, in conjunction with legal groups, Justice, Public, and Make The Road New York.
Amazon told CNBC in a statement that the company has been following federal and local health authorities, including the CDC, the World Health Organization, its own workplace health and safety experts and an independent epidemiologist. The company says it follows CDC guidelines on contact tracking, and its process includes reviewing surveillance images and data, such as where employees are on the ground and how long. Amazon also said it conducted interviews with individuals. Amazon added that since March, state health and safety regulators have inspected 91 facilities and that it has passed all on-site inspections.
The lawsuit says Amazon did something wrong.
The lawsuit lists several flaws in Amazon’s contact tracking efforts. After Amazon employees tested positive for Covid-19, the company reviewed video footage from live cameras to determine which employees might have interacted with the person and were exposed to the virus. The company then notifies the employees and places them in quarantine.
But the lawsuit notes that the company only reviews surveillance video to identify those who are in close contact with the infected person, and the CDC recommends that entities interview infected people for a more comprehensive picture. Surveillance video is not a comprehensive source of employee interaction, said Frank Kearl, an employee attorney for Make The Road in New York, one of the plaintiffs. Employees often carpool to work together or talk collectively outside the facility. Kearl said it’s also unlikely that the bathroom will have surveillance cameras because it’s a crowded area.
In addition, the lawsuit says, the surveillance video reviewed by Amazon covers only the last 24 hours before an infected employee is identified. The CDC’s guidance states that “close contacts” include “anyone who is at least 15 minutes from 6 feet before the onset of the disease.”
In a statement filed at the same time as the lawsuit, Melissa Perry, a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, said Amazon’s response to Palmer was “not adequately tracked.” Perry also questioned whether Amazon should be responsible for its own contact tracking. The lawsuit calls on Amazon to introduce an independent third-party organization to deal with it.
“Contact tracing requires building trust to facilitate honest communication between contacts, infected people, and their contacts,” Perry wrote. “Given Amazon’s power and the risk of retaliation against its warehouse workers, Amazon is not fit to perform this function and does not appear to have interviewed workers as part of its contact tracking efforts.” “
According to the lawsuit, information about positive cases is also tightly controlled within the facility. According to the complaint, Amazon instructed employees “to avoid telling others if they are infected with the virus and rely on Amazon to perform contact tracking.” Amazon disputed this claim, saying it would notify all employees on the site as soon as it was notified of a positive case. Out of respect for the privacy of the infected person, the company keeps its identity confidential. Amazon added that it’s up to employees to decide whether to share their diagnosis with others.
Kearl said information about cases and contact tracing “needs to be open edified and shared,” adding that transparency is essential to prevent further transmission of the new coronavirus.
“We’re not saying they’re violating HIPAA laws, we’re asking them to track their contacts accurately,” Kearl said. “Telling people not to tell others that they’re positive, that’s not what the CDC recommends. “
Amazon continues to notify employees of new cases of the virus across the United States, but it does not provide the total number of workers who have tested positive for the virus at its facilities. As a result, Amazon workers are trying to unofficially count confirmed and unconfirmed cases in the United States, with a crowdsourced Reddit spreadsheet showing several new cases at Amazon facilities on May 30.