An employee of Amazon’s Staten Island, N.Y. warehouse has died after contracting COVID-19, officials confirmed on Tuesday.
The worker had not been to the warehouse since April 5 and was confirmed to have the coronavirus on April 11 while in quarantine. According to local reports, there have been more than a dozen employees at the facility diagnosed with COVID-19. However, Amazon said that the worker was not contact traced to other staff members and that all cases appear not to be linked.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of an associate at our site in Staten Island, N.Y.” said Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty. “His family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting his fellow colleagues.”
In March, 15 employees participated in a protest at the Staten Island facility, aimed at calling attention to a reported lack of protections after a worker there tested positive for COVID-19. The leader of the protest, Christian Smalls, was terminated shortly after. According to Amazon, Smalls was fired after receiving “multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines.”
However, in April, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, wrote a letter to the e-commerce giant indicating that it may have violated New York’s whistleblower laws in terminating Smalls. Further, she questioned whether the company had violated federal health and safety laws. Additionally, five U.S. senators — Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Richard Blumenthal, Robert Menendez and Kirsten Gillibrand — sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos last month raising questions about both Smalls’ firing and the purported lack of personal protective equipment at the Staten Island facility.
For its part, Amazon says it has taken more than 150 steps aimed at keeping workers safe amid the coronavirus pandemic. To protect workers from contracting the virus, Amazon said it has staggered shifts, placed markings on its floors and added signage to remind employees to social distance. It has also increased the frequency of cleaning at all sites, including of high-touch surfaces such as elevator buttons, door and stairway handles and touch screens. In addition, the e-tail behemoth said it has been conducting temperature checks and providing face masks and hand sanitizer to employees in warehouses in the United States and Europe as well as in its Whole Foods stores.
Despite these steps, on Friday, a number of employees from Amazon, as well as Walmart, Target, FedEx and Instacart, either called in sick or walked out of work during their lunch break as part of a “May Day” protest. Workers who participated in the protest called for improved health and safety standards as well as hazard pay.
This story has been updated to include Amazon’s comment.