An Amazon employee who worked at its fulfillment center on Staten Island, N.Y., died after contracting the coronavirus, the company said Tuesday. He is at least the fifth Amazon worker to have died from COVID-19, according to media reports.
In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson 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.”
The company did not identify the worker but said he was in his late 60s. The news was first reported by The Verge. Previously, two Amazon warehouse workers in California died from COVID-19 in addition to two employees of Whole Foods Market (in a Boston suburb and Portland, Ore.).
Amazon says it has taken numerous efforts to protect its workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic, including spending more than $800 million in the first half of 2020 on coronavirus-related safety measures. To date, the company has implemented more than 150 “significant process changes” to support employee teams during the crisis, according to a spokesperson. That includes increasing pay rates; adjusting time off; and providing temperature checks, masks, gloves and other safety measures at its shipping facilities.
That said, some employees and critics allege Amazon has not done enough to protect workers from infection. Workers have staged protests and the New York Attorney General is investigating whether the company violated federal safety standards. Amazon also has fired employees who have spoken out against the company, saying they broke “internal policies.” Last week, Amazon VP and senior engineer Tim Bray wrote in an open letter that he “quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of COVID-19” and, before editing out the comment, previously called the company’s firings of employees “chickenshit” and “Designed to create a climate of fear.”
In the first quarter of 2020, Amazon sales boomed to $75.4 billion, up 26% year-over-year, on overwhelming demand from homebound customers, while net profit fell 29% on higher costs. CEO Jeff Bezos said the company will spend roughly its expected Q2 operating profit of $4 billion — or more — on expenses related to COVID-19 in the second quarter. “The current crisis is demonstrating the adaptability and durability of Amazon’s business as never before, but it’s also the hardest time we’ve ever faced,” Bezos said in prepared remarks announcing Q1 results.
To meet increased demand, Amazon hired an additional 100,000 workers for its operations network and said it was investing over $350 million globally to increase pay. Last month, the company said it plans to hire an additional 75,000 employees to meet the surge in orders.