Weeks of protests led by workers, public pressure, media reports, and a scathing Facebook post from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders seem to have finally persuaded Amazon in slightly easing the burden for its employees, who continue working through the pandemic.
In a confirmed statement to BuzzFeed News, Amazon stated that it will give some pay to employees heading home with fevers. Amazon previously stated that workers going home with a fever could use paid time if they had it or they could just take unpaid leave if they didn't. For a company with more than 50 workers reporting positive for COVID-19, it's a nominal departure from its previous position, and it clearly demonstrates how Jeff Bezos continues to lag behind others in providing extremely basic safety guardrails for his workers.
What Amazon says — Nominal is the operative word here. It's not a grand change from Amazon's previous position; the company can and should do better for its workers handling warehouse, delivery, and shipping duties, among other responsibilities deemed "essential," under the coronavirus outbreak. According to an Amazon spokesperson who spoke with BuzzFeed News, the new policy states that "if an employee has a fever, they will be sent home and will be paid up to five hours of their scheduled shift that day."
At the beginning of April, the company officially announced its decision to institute fever screenings for employees. "Implementing daily temperature screenings in our operations sites is an additional preventative measure Amazon is taking to support the health and safety of our customers and employees, who continue to provide a critical service in our communities," the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Confusion, not clarity, reigns — There also seems to be a lack of uniformity in implementing the company's new policy. On Monday, a human resources worker at an Amazon facility in the Midwest noted that 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit was the point at which she was instructed to give three days' "non-working paid time" to sick workers. On Friday, however, human resource workers in other states told BuzzFeed News that they received guidelines noting "an associate who is sent home for a fever at or above 100.4°F / 38.0°C degrees is paid for their scheduled shift that day, up to five hours maximum."
Damage control time — Amazon's decision to give some pay to its fever-riddled workers comes after company executives disparaged a recently fired Staten Island warehouse worker in an internal meeting. Demeaning the ex-employee's intelligence, who demanded better safety protocol in Amazon warehouses, general counsel David Zapolsky called for a two-pronged PR narrative: one about the company's COVID-19 response and theo ther about general labor organizing. Of course, the leaked memo sparked widespread outrage about Amazon's disregard for vulnerable workers.
With this slight shift in policy, Bezos' company sounds more concerned about its public status — and far less about the terrifying implications of employees working without solid safety protocol during a pandemic.