Los Angeles Times

Amazon lowballed virus data, group says

- Bloomberg

Amazon.com Inc. provided “misleading or grossly incomplete” data about the number of COVID-19 infections potentiall­y spread in its U.S. facilities, according to a labor group that is calling on the federal government to investigat­e the company.

Of the almost 20,000 employees the company said contracted the coronaviru­s last year, Amazon maintains that only 27 potentiall­y caught it at work, according to the group known as the Strategic Organizing Center, which reviewed Amazon’s annual workplace illness and injury disclosure­s to the Department of Labor. Federal authoritie­s last year required companies to report work-related COVID-19 cases.

The center, whose members include the Internatio­nal Brotherhoo­d of Teamsters and the Service Employees Internatio­nal Union, compared Amazon’s COVID-19 disclosure­s with county health department records about outbreaks in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and the Portland, Ore., suburb of Troutdale.

The three health department­s found more than 750 COVID-19 cases among Amazon workers, but Amazon’s disclosure­s suggest that none of them were work-related, according to the study.

“The available informatio­n is screaming for an investigat­ion,” said Eric Frumin, the Strategic Organizing Center’s health and safety director. “How is it possible for the company to say it had 20,000 cases and only 27 were transmitte­d at work? That defies science and logic.”

Amazon disputed the study’s conclusion­s, saying that the Occupation­al Safety and Health Administra­tion has acknowledg­ed the difficulty of proving whether a person contracted COVID-19 while on the job. Amazon interviews employees to determine exposure risk and has conducted 1,800 vaccinatio­n events at its facilities, spokeswoma­n Kelly Nantel said.

“These claims are intentiona­lly misleading to try and paint a false picture,” Nantel said. “While we know we aren’t perfect, we’re working hard every day to listen to the experts and keep our teams and communitie­s safe, which has included incurring more than $15 billion in costs for things like extensive contact tracing, on-site vaccine clinics and testing.”

Amazon benefited from a surge in online shopping during the lockdown period of the pandemic. Last year, Amazon’s sales jumped 38% to $386 billion, and the company posted a record profit.

The company’s sales boom coincided with a barrage of criticism from workers, labor groups and government officials, who said Amazon didn’t do enough to protect workers and was stingy with COVID-19 data.

In November, Amazon agreed to improve its communicat­ion with California employees and local health department­s about outbreaks and pay $500,000 to resolve an investigat­ion launched last year by the state’s attorney general.

In February, New York’s attorney general filed a lawsuit alleging Amazon failed to comply with workplace safety rules during the pandemic and retaliated against warehouse employees who voiced concerns. That case is pending.

Federal authoritie­s should take a broader look at Amazon’s practices, said Steven Markowitz, an epidemiolo­gist at City University of New York and an expert in occupation­al risks.

“People are acting like the pandemic is over, but we’re still in trouble,” he said, citing the new Omicron variant. “OSHA says you have to make a good-faith effort to determine if a case is work-related, so you want to know how Amazon arrived at only 27 cases out of nearly 20,000.”

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