Update: In a statement to Input, an Amazon spokesperson said, "I want to reinforce that we do not terminate employees for organizing in protests, but we do terminate them for repeatedly violating internal policies."
"We take employee safety incredible seriously," the representative added, "and have invested in a series of measure to protect our associates."
An Amazon worker in New York has died after being infected with the novel coronavirus, amid widespread protests about the lack of protections the company has provided its employees. In a comment provided to The Verge on Tuesday, Amazon confirmed that a worker had died due to COVID-19. The employee worked at a fulfillment center known as the JFK8 in Staten Island, New York, according to the report.
The grim news arrives amid increased criticism against Jeff Bezos' official COVID-19 response for Amazon employees and ensuing protests and condemnation. Per Verge, at least 29 Amazon workers have tested positive for the coronavirus.
What Amazon says — In a statement to The Verge, the company said, "We are deeply saddened by the loss of an associate at our site in Staten Island, New York. His family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting his fellow colleagues."
Protests have long sparked at JFK8 — This news is particularly devastating given that Amazon workers at the JFK8 have previously voiced their deep concerns about the company's response to COVID-19. In late March, several workers led protests against higher-ups, demanding safety gear, routine checkups, and paid sick leave for warehouse workers. And despite vowing to help these aggrieved employees, Amazon hasn't lived up to its promises, as Input previously noted. It also fired at least two warehouse workers after they vocalized frustration with the lack of coronavirus-related protections. Additionally, in a leaked memo, company executives are shown to be disparaging one of the protesters.
In comments to CNBC, Amazon workers have openly condemned the company for failing to provide adequate safety amid the deadly pandemic. "We do not feel safe in our building anymore," one said. "And the pay we do get if we test positive is only 60% of our pay. Amazon is not taking care of us."
Internal rifts at Amazon — The company's response to COVID-19 has also sparked rifts within Amazon. In an open letter on his own website, vice president and software engineer Tim Bray announced that he had left his role over Amazon's decision to fire protesting workers. "Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces," Bray said, "nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison."
Cruel and inevitable — Despite repeated protests by employees, pressure from lawmakers, and multiple cases of infected workers, Amazon has yet to provide a cohesive — even humane — strategy for its workforce. Most of its facilities continue to operate in the United States under the essential services category. As The Verge notes, Amazon has continued to hired in the middle of the outbreak with at 175,000 workers brought in the recent weeks. As horrific this news is regarding the late Amazon worker, another tragedy like this seems inevitable unless Jeff Bezos decides to actually care for the people who make his entire empire possible.