The first place many Amazon warehouse workers go every morning is Reddit.
A list on the site, maintained by an anonymous individual who claims to be an Amazon insider, catalogs every case of COVID-19 confirmed at the company's numerous warehouses.
The list has become a vital resource for a group of people on the frontlines of the pandemic— the hourly workers who package goods and ship them to millions of homebound Americans — as they desperately seek up-to-date information about the safety of the facilities they report to everyday.
Amazon provides updates to its workers on confirmed COVID-19 cases, but the information has often been slow to get released and spotty, multiple people have confirmed to Business Insider.
As of April 30, the Reddit list shows more than 600 cases of coronavirus infections at 148 US Amazon facilities and three confirmed deaths.
The list, maintained on a website more often associated with not-safe-for-work content than vital workplace safety data, is the latest example of how the pandemic is reshaping the importance of technology across society and testing the ability of even the most formidable companies to adapt.
Amazon has emerged as a critical utility supplying the world with food and other essential items in the pandemic, but at the same time the company has become a target of criticism over reports that its policies and actions are putting its workers at risk.
Workers at Amazon warehouses have organized walkouts in recent weeks. And on Friday, a coalition of workers from Amazon, Walmart, FedEx, Target, Instacart, and Whole Foods is going on strike to protest working conditions.
Meanwhile, the Reddit list keeps growing with new cases being reported almost daily.
An Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider that the company initially shared info on confirmed cases verbally with shift workers, believing that such in-person notifications were more humane. That approach, however well meaning, left many workers saying they were not being informed, and Amazon says it is now texting all employees at an affected facility.
"While some companies have cited HIPAA compliance as a reason to not be transparent about the number of confirmed cases in their buildings, we have taken a different approach and are sharing with all employees when a confirmed case occurs in one of our buildings," the Amazon spokesperson said.
The keeper of the Reddit list tells Business Insider that much of the information they compile comes from these official texts and other formal communications from the company.
But the person says, it also comes from people with direct knowledge of sick workers that don't seem to be included in Amazon's official communications.
"I try not to go by hearsay," the list keeper said. "But sadly it seems that Amazon, while they did try to enforce a protocol to notify their employees of cases, there seems to be a thing where some [cases] are going unofficial."
Sources tell Business Insider that Amazon is doing a few things that have alarmed warehouse workers.
- At some warehouses, the company alerted only certain workers of a new case, just the people who share the same shift with the sick person, not the rest of the workers in the facility. Amazon says it has changed this approach and is now alerting everyone.
- If a warehouse has many cases — some of them have now had dozens — Amazon's texts don't say how many new cases have been reported, so workers don't know the total number of cases at the facility.
- Workers say that sometimes the text is sent days or weeks after new cases have been confirmed, rolling up all the new cases in one alert.
A warehouse worker tells a harrowing tale
"What we've heard from workers is that it was taking them often times over a week to be notified of COVID cases. And we heard just last week that they sometimes announce total cases but at the end of people's shifts," fired Amazon tech worker Emily Cunningham told Business Insider.
Cunningham is one of the leaders of the employee activist group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) who has been pressing the company over warehouse worker conditions, among other issues. Amazon fired her and another leader of the group, 15-year Amazon veteran Maren Costa, earlier this month for violating Amazon's external communications and no solicitation policies after the company learned the group was organizing an event to support warehouse workers.
Cunningham and Costa organized a virtual "sick out" on Friday to support warehouse workers. During that event, one New York warehouse worker who identified himself only as "Mike" told a harrowing first-person account.
"There's no transparency at all," Mike said about COVID-19 case information. "The first case, we didn't hear about it from management. We heard about it from the workers from that shift, where that worker got a call, got a positive diagnosis, told management and went home."
That first case happened about a month ago, he said. According to Mike, he didn't receive a text alert about that case until after he had already arrived at work. And, he said, workers on the shift that followed his shift were not included in the alert.
Workers at that facility organized several walk-outs that shut it down for a few shifts, Mike said. After that, the company promptly texted workers when the second and third confirmed cases emerged.
But, when Amazon said nothing about new cases for much of April, Mike cornered a manager demanding an update and was told that the warehouse had five or six cases, he said.
"Just yesterday, they sent out another text and said there had been another case," Mike said. "That was the 4th text, the fourth time they actually notified people. But even last night, I talked to people at other shifts and not everyone got that text."
When Mike asked the manager about the lack of alerts for each new case, he was told that sometimes the texts represent multiple new cases, he said.
Warning texts 'go to only select employees'
The Reddit list keeper told Business Insider a similar thing.
For instance, the text messages sent to employees at the warehouse in Easton, Pa., known internally as ABE4, stopped including the specific number of cases after the 11th confirmed case, the insider said.
"MEM1 had their first and second case verbally confirmed and they didn't see any texts until the 3rd case. HOU2 has at least 19, they also stopped giving a number in their texts. Same with JFK8, LGA9, EWR9, EWR8, BOS5, and MOB5 had their texts only go to select employees instead of the entire FC [fulfillment center]," the list keeper told Business Insider.
One relative of an Amazon worker at the Hazel Park, MI, location told Business Insider that the worker had not heard of any cases at that location, but had merely overheard workers talking about a case.
The Reddit list says that the facility has confirmed 6 cases through texts, with the latest text sent on April 22. But that facility is rumored to have 12 or more cases because the texts stopped listing the number of cases after the 5th one.
Although an Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider that the company is now alerting every worker at the facility as soon as it hears of a new case, warehouse workers feel distrustful that this is actually happening, one worker said.
Enforcing social distancing policies
While Amazon is now providing its workers with masks and still has social distancing policies in place, some workers say that not everyone follows them and enforcement of these policies is not uniform.
An Amazon spokesperson says the company is doing all it can to ensure social distancing policies are followed and that an employee who violates such policies can be fired.
"We have adjusted practices to ensure social distancing is happening throughout the buildings. We are taking intense measures to ensure the health and safety of employees across our sites and recently implemented a new policy: individuals who intentionally violate our social distancing guidelines will receive two warnings – on the second documented offense, termination may occur," the spokesperson says.
But there are still loopholes that can be easily sidestepped.
While Amazon checks the temperatures of warehouse employees at the start of their shift, the same does not always occur for every driver that visits every facility, according to multiple people. Delivery drivers are often contractors.
"We are conducting temperature checks across our US and European operations network and Whole Foods Market stores, testing hundreds of thousands of employees daily. If people have a fever, we'll ask them to go home and return to work when they are without fever for at least three days," the spokesperson said.
Amazon also has dedicated social distancing enforcement employees roaming the floors with a six-foot stick to measure and remind employees to stay far apart.
But Mike, the Amazon worker from the virtual protest, says that, in the last two weeks, as Amazon has hired thousands of new workers, there are times when some facilities get so busy with orders and workers, that they wind up temporarily working closer than six feet together on the packaging lines.
Some workers fear their exposure situation will get worse before it gets better because on May 1, Amazon is ending its policy of allowing unlimited, unpaid time off.
"Unlimited and paid time off is ending," says Costa. "Amazon is always saying what they're doing. But the measures put in place are not consistently enforced. I get emotional. It bothers me the way warehouse workers are treated by the company."
The spokesperson said that even though the blanket policy of time off is ending, employees may still qualify for unpaid, or paid, time off on a doctor mandated quarantine, on a case-by-case basis.
Are you an Amazon insider with insight to share? Contact Julie Bort via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on encrypted chat app Signal at (970) 430-6112 (no PR inquiries, please). Open DMs on Twitter @Julie188.