Amazon has said more than 19,800 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since March.
Data on the e-commerce giant’s 1.37 million frontline workers, including those at its Whole Foods Market grocery stores in the US, showed a lower infection rate than expected, Amazon said.
Some workers in logistics centers have criticized the company’s safeguards to protect them from the pandemic as well as its reluctance to share information about colleagues who get infected.
Amazon has ramped up testing to 50,000 a day across 650 sites, according to the Seattle-based company.
“Since the beginning of this crisis, we’ve worked hard to keep our employees informed, notifying them of every new case in their building,” Amazon said in a blog post sharing COVID-19 infection rates among its frontline workers.
If the rate of infection among Amazon and Whole Foods workers were the same as the general US population, the number of cases would have topped 33,000, according to the company.
Companies are under no legal obligation to publicly reveal how many of their workers have contracted the virus. Employers have to provide a safe working environment, which means they must alert staff if they might have been exposed to the virus, according to guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the US federal agency that enforces workplace safety. They are also obligated to keep track of COVID-19 infections contracted on the job, and must report to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) if there is hospitalization or death related to the disease.
A perceived lack of transparency has left workers at various retailers, including Amazon and Walmart, to become amateur sleuths in their spare time. Unions and advocate groups have taken up the cause, too, creating lists or building online maps of stores where workers can self-report cases they know about.
In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, Walmart said that “we believe that Walmart associates’ rate of infection tracks, or is below, the current rate of infection of the general public nationwide.” It didn’t explain why it doesn’t provide numbers.
Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents grocery and meatpacking workers, called Amazon’s disclosure as “the most damning evidence we have seen that corporate America has completely failed to protect our country’s frontline workers in this pandemic.”
UFCW has called for immediate action by federal regulators and a full congressional investigation.