A New Jersey mayor and an advocacy group are calling for the shutdown of an Amazon warehouse after a report of more than 30 employees infected with the coronavirus.
After Business Insider reported more than 30 employees at the Carteret Amazon fulfillment center tested positive for COVID-19, Mayor Daniel Reiman called on the Middlesex County and state department of health to temporarily close the facility, until all workers could be tested and the facility could be sanitized. Reiman also called on Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure that the facility had the proper protective supplies.
“By choosing profits over people, Amazon has now placed both in danger” said Reiman. “These employees aren’t drones, they are people and Amazon treats them like herded sheep.”
In a phone call, a spokeswoman for Amazon told NJ Advance Media the company never confirmed the number of employees who tested positive. But when asked, Amazon did not say how many of the employees at the Carteret facility tested positive for the virus.
“We are supporting the individuals who are recovering,” said Rachael Lighty, spokeswoman for Amazon. “We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”
CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES: Live map tracker | Newsletter | Homepage
The wife of a worker at the Carteret facility, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said that conditions at the warehouse were subpar, including a break room that had no running water. Pictures she sent to NJ Advance Media show a crowded break room as recently as March 18, dust covered air vents and a break room sink with two signs that read “DON’T USE SINK” and “NO WATER.”
Another picture shows a sign that reads “Let’s social distance together,” above an email for human resources. Below the email, the words “STOP LIE HR” are scrawled in pen.
The accusations regarding an unclean facility were “simply unfounded,” said Lighty.
As of April 2, there were four confirmed cases of the virus in the Carteret facility, said the worker’s wife, but nearly every day, her husband has received text after text notifying him of a new case. The messages do not specify how many new cases, merely saying “We have additional cases of COVID-19.”
“We don’t know,” she said. “Because they won’t give us that information.”
The company said that when a COVID-19 case was confirmed in any of their facilities, they would tell employees, including those who had not come in contact with those infected. But Amazon, after several requests, did not provide specific numbers.
The report comes little more than a week before May 1, when the company will end its unlimited unpaid time off for employees. In a note to employees, the company said that on May 1, it would be “returning to our normal attendance policy.” The company will extend $2 hour per hour wage increase to May 16.
The company is extending double overtime pay in the U.S. and Canada, said Lighty. It will also provide flexibility with leave of absence options, including expanding the policy to cover high-risk individuals or school closures, she said.
One after the other, employees at Amazon facilities across New Jersey have been reported as COVID-19 positive. Employees in Amazon facilities at Edison, Robbinsville and Teterboro have tested positive.
Workers rights organization Make The Road New Jersey joined Reiman’s call to shut down the Carteret facility, calling on Governor Phil Murphy to shutter the facility.
“We call on Governor Phil Murphy to utilize his executive authority to temporarily shut down Amazon’s Carteret warehouse, because it’s clear this outbreak is beyond Amazon’s control,” Adil Ahmed, the organization’s director of worker organizing and policy, said in a statement.
“The workers are not robots,” Ahmed added. “They are humans with families and loved ones, and we cannot afford to social distance on their backs.”
Thank you for relying on us to provide the journalism you can trust. Please consider supporting NJ.com with a voluntary subscription.
Rodrigo Torrejon may be reached at [email protected].