Amazon: Union warning of Prime Day COVID-19 outbreak is ‘scaremongering’

  • Amazon’s Prime Day shopping event got underway Tuesday.
  • A workers’ union is worried Prime Day could worsen the spread of COVID-19 in the company’s Coventry, UK warehouse, which currently has up to 3,000 workers in it.
  • Eight workers have tested positive for the virus in the warehouse over the past two weeks, and other workers are waiting to hear results on tests, the GMB Union said.
  • “Amazon’s recklessness could turn Prime Day into a hive of infection,” Amanda Gearing, a GMB organizer told Business Insider.
  • Amazon said the union’s statement was “scaremongering and irresponsible.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A workers’ union is worried that Amazon’s Prime Day shopping event could cause a COVID-19 outbreak in one of the e-commerce giant’s UK warehouses.

GMB Union said in a press statement that at least eight workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Coventry, England had tested positive for the virus over the past two weeks.

The Coventry warehouse normally houses 2,000 workers, but has taken on as many as 1,000 temporary workers to deal with Prime Day demand, a union spokesperson told Business Insider.

The union said Amazon was in the process of testing workers, but that the results take a minimum of one week to come back.

“Amazon have made it clear to workers they will not be paid if they self-isolate without a positive test. They are expected to come into work while they await the results of their test,” Amanda Gearing, a GMB organizer, told Business Insider.

“Amazon’s recklessness could turn Prime Day into a hive of infection. Workers are frightened that if they don’t come to work they won’t get paid and their family will end up homeless — but if they do go to work they might die,” Gearing said in a statement.

Amazon: Union is ‘scaremongering’

Amazon said the union’s statement was “scaremongering and irresponsible.”

“Safety is our top priority at Amazon and we make sure safety is front of mind on Prime Day, just as it is during every day of our business,” a spokesman told Business Insider.

Amazon was piloting voluntary tests for workers at multiple locations, and it had also built its own lab in Manchester to provide additional testing capacity beyond what the UK government was already offering, he said. 

“Since March, we’ve implanted an additional 150 significant process changes including the provision of masks and additional cleaning to ensure the health and safety of our teams.

“We’ve already spent more than $800 million on COVID-19 safety measures, with investments in personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning of our facilities, new process paths that allow for effective social distancing, and developing our own COVID-19 testing capabilities.”

The spokesman said that “these are the actions of a company taking responsibility for the safety of its employees. Meanwhile, the union focuses on trying to drive headlines for their own ends.”

Employees who tested positive were all asymptomatic, he said. The GMB union disputed this, saying that it had heard from colleagues of the affected workers that two of them were in the hospital.

Tuesday marks the beginning of Prime Day, a two-day shopping event where Amazon offers cut-rate deals to Amazon Prime members. It usually takes place during the summer, but this year it was moved to October to cope with changing consumer habits during the pandemic.

One US-based worker told Business Insider in the run-up to Prime Day that workers were being made to do mandatory overtime, meaning a total of 60 hours per week inside the warehouse. A UK-based worker told Business Insider on Saturday of overstocked warehouses with bins “crammed full” of items.

Amazon announced on October 1 it had identified 19,816 positive COVID-19 cases among its US Amazon and Whole Foods employees since March.

Some employees have voiced concerns that Amazon has not done enough to curb the spread of the virus. Workers in Amazon’s German warehouses went on strike Tuesday, with a local union saying they have been working “without adequate protection” against COVID-19.

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