Atiya felt under the weather when she reported to work at Amazon’s JFK8 Staten Island facility on Wednesday. But her condition worsened during her shift, she told BuzzFeed News, and when she asked management to take her temperature it was 101.1 degrees.
Management immediately gave Atiya, who asked to be identified only by her first name for fear of losing her job, a mask and escorted her out of the facility. She said she was handed a piece of paper with information about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, sent home, and told not to report back until she was fever-free for 72 hours. Since then, Atiya, who started working at Amazon a little over two weeks ago, said she hasn't heard from anyone at the company about whether she’ll continue to be paid while she stays home from work.
By Thursday, her fever was 102 degrees, and she said she’d spoken to a health care worker in Brooklyn who told her not to come for a coronavirus test but to stay home in quarantine for the next two weeks. Atiya currently has $50 in her bank account and is expecting a paycheck from Amazon on Friday. Because she’s only worked for the company for a couple of weeks, she’s only accrued a couple shifts' worth of paid time off, most of which she’d already used to stay home to care for her 4-year-old daughter.
“I received my pay statement today and it says $0.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Responding to questions regarding temperature checks and paid leave for those sent home, a company spokesperson said Wednesday: “All hourly employees are welcome to use paid and unpaid time off options. This includes unlimited unpaid time off through the end of April.”
Last month, Amazon announced that any employee who tested positive for the coronavirus or was ordered to quarantine by a medical professional would receive up to two weeks of pay. But workers the company has sent home with fevers, which may or may not have been caused by the coronavirus, said Amazon wasn't giving them paid leave beyond any paid time off they had already accrued.
Amazon started checking employees’ temperatures at work earlier this week. According to a text message sent to Amazon employees in Southern California, “If someone has a temperature of 100.4F or above, we’ll require them to go home until you have been fever free for 72 hours.”
But the company, which made $3.3 billion in profit in the last quarter of 2019, said employees sent home with fevers should use their accrued paid time off if they have it or go without pay if they don’t.
“[Amazon hasn’t] reached out to me to find out my status or what’s going on,” said Atiya.”If I don’t get any type of funds, I’m not sure what to do, especially if I have to quarantine myself. I don’t know too many pantries around here. I’m not sure where I can get food ... for my family.”
Other workers told to self-quarantine are unsure whether they’ll be paid for the time they spend at home. “I’m still waiting on a case manager to give me a call,” a Detroit-based Amazon employee who declined to be named told BuzzFeed News. “Our payday is this Friday. I received my pay statement today and it says $0.”
This employee received written quarantine instructions from his doctor last Thursday and said he was supposed to hear from Amazon within three to five business days, but he’s still waiting. “Financially I’m wrecked at this point in time,” he said.
Amazon employees around the country have said that, despite the company’s claims about enhanced cleaning and workplace safety, it’s not doing enough to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of employees, including more than 500 white-collar tech workers, have signed petitions demanding that Amazon provide more hazard pay and paid sick leave and temporarily close facilities where employees have tested positive for disinfection. Dozens of employees in New York, Chicago, and Detroit have walked off the job and picketed outside Amazon facilities in protest of inadequate sanitation and unsafe working conditions.
Amazon is also under a spiraling PR crisis today after a leaked memo was published in Vice in which the company's general counsel called Chris Smalls — a New York worker whom the company fired for failing to adhere to quarantine orders as he protested its handling of the pandemic — "not smart or articulate." Smalls' termination has become a rallying cry for critics of the company, with Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday calling it "absolutely immoral."
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Amazon’s new temperature screenings are intended to make the company’s facilities safer by preventing sick people from infecting their coworkers, but employees say the process is confusing, inconsistent, and potentially causing more problems.
Amazon “is forcing employees to test their coworkers for fever because no one would volunteer to do this,” an employee in Edison, New Jersey, who requested anonymity, told BuzzFeed News. “All people who are tested are less than 6 feet between tester and the employee being tested.” He said Amazon is providing “no additional protections for testers.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to request for comment on its fever screening procedures.
Meanwhile, he said that despite the concerns he and others have voiced, Amazon still isn’t disinfecting individual work stations.
“Mr. Bezos is the richest man in the world and Amazon workers deserve better.”
Federal health and safety guidelines recommend employers not require employees to present documentation of illness to receive financial aid during the pandemic, but companies like Instacart, Uber, and Amazon are still requiring workers to present positive tests. This requirement is proving to be a problem for many workers in states that have test shortages.
“Here in NJ people are lined up for hours at driving through testing centers,” said the New Jersey–based Amazon employee. “[It] takes weeks to get the result. Many centers run out of tests before the end of the day.”
More than a dozen lawmakers, including four US senators, have signed letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demanding answers on employee concerns about safety protections during the coronavirus pandemic. Last Friday, Brian Huseman, Amazon's vice president for public policy, wrote in a public response that the company wouldn't penalize employees who missed work if they needed to stay home and seek medical help.
In response to the news that Amazon wasn't guaranteeing paid leave to employees who failed its temperature screening, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said: “Jeff Bezos is putting employees at risk of contracting the virus by forcing workers to go without pay and failing to implement critical health protections. Mr. Bezos is the richest man in the world and Amazon workers deserve better.”