Amazon postpones office return due to COVID but will stop testing in warehouses

All Amazon workers are equal, but some are more equal than others.

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 20: The exterior of The Spheres is seen at the Inc. headquarters on May...
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Amazon is the latest tech company to delay its timeline for bringing workers back to the office. The company had expected employees to head back to their regular routines beginning September 7, but it has now pushed that date to January 3, 2022. GeekWire earlier reported on the news.

The delay comes in response to the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19, which has caused infection numbers across the United States to start ticking upwards again. Other companies including Apple and Google have also delayed their return-to-office plans. Overall hospitalization numbers remain far lower than at the beginning of the pandemic.

It’s not clear if Amazon will require returning employees to be vaccinated. Google and several others have mandated it.

Two systems — At the same time as Amazon is delaying its return, it recently told workers in its warehouse fulfillment centers that it would stop testing them for the virus. The company said this was because workers had plenty of public options for testing. But it seems more than a little contradictory that the company feels it’s not safe yet for its well-paid employees to return to work while at the same time walking back protections for front-line workers. Amazon had asked some warehouse workers to get tested regularly, but it wasn’t universally required.

It’s possible that Amazon may reinstate COVID testing in response to the Delta variant. The company has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Testing is important because it can catch an infection before it’s allowed to spread, which is key to protecting unvaccinated individuals and preventing the virus from mutating among its hosts. Offering testing in-house would make worker’s lives easier as they wouldn’t have to spend time off the clock doing so.

Amazon isn’t exactly known for treating its warehouse workers well, though. It recently lost a case in which it was sued for trying to avoid paying workers for the time they spent waiting in its bag check lines. And it’s aggressively fought against unionization efforts.

Hopeful sign — The Delta variant has been allowed to spread because of stubbornly low vaccination rates among some populations in the U.S. But on the bright side, it seems that the threat of renewed lockdowns is finally pushing some skeptics to get the shot, as vaccination rates have increased by 16 percent across the country, particularly in states that had previously lagged begin. The only way to stop coronavirus for good is by vaccinating the entire population, as new variants that evolve in their hosts could evade existing vaccines.

When employees do return to Amazon’s offices, the company will allow them to work at home at least two days a week. Which is good news for them, if not for warehouse workers who already feel understandably hard done by.