Amazon employees describe Ottawa warehouse’s lax enforcement of COVID-19 preventive measures

An Amazon employee said that working at the distribution giant’s Ottawa warehouse during the pandemic was a nerve-wracking experience, citing allegedly neglected safety measures and dozens of workers who tested positive for COVID-19 example of.

This employee was tested positive for the virus at the end of 2020 and was one of 500 people working at Amazon’s distribution center in rural eastern Ottawa. CBC News has agreed to protect the identity of the sources because they fear losing their jobs due to talking to the media.

Although Amazon told CBC News that it has a strict zero-tolerance policy for anyone who violates COVID-19 procedures and works closely with the Ottawa Public Health Department, the employee stated that the demand for warehouses has been growing since the pandemic began. , Which puts more pressure on workers to avoid safety agreements—especially regarding physical distance.

The fear of contracting COVID is very real. I am afraid of it, and also afraid of giving it to my partner.-Employees at Amazon’s East Ottawa Distribution Center

The worker showed photos taken by CBC in the warehouse. He said: “You know, to work more closely together, you have to lift heavier things together…not everyone wears masks correctly.”

In one photo, an employee’s mask is placed under his mouth. In another place, two employees sat together.

Amazon employees have no union representatives. The worker said that many people are afraid of losing their jobs and are afraid to discuss with management about making changes.

“Since the whole thing started, it has been a bit nerve-wracking for me,” they said.

An Amazon employee in an Ottawa warehouse said that working conditions have been unstable during the pandemic, and dozens of workers have tested positive for COVID-19. CBC News has agreed to protect the identity of the sources because they fear losing their jobs. 1:06

Three Amazon fulfillment centers in Brampton, Ontario Temporarily partially closed To control the COVID-19 outbreak.

The three closures were ordered under Section 22 of the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act. Peel’s public health department said it would close workplaces with five or more cases within two weeks, and said the closure is to protect employees, their families and the wider community.

The Ottawa warehouse has not yet closed.

More than a dozen employees COVID-19 alert in January

When someone in the warehouse tests positive for COVID-19, Amazon will send a text alert to employees. CBC was shown 35 text alerts sent between April 2020 and March 2021-some of which reported multiple cases in the Ottawa warehouse.

In January alone, more than a dozen alerts were sent during what is believed to be the third wave of the epidemic in the province. Multiple alerts are for more than one case.

Examples of text sent to Ottawa Amazon warehouse employees to remind them of new confirmed cases of COVID-19. Since April 2020, dozens of copies have been sent to employees. (Submitted by Amazon employees)

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) refused to confirm these 35 cases. It will not publicly identify companies that have experienced the epidemic. According to the health authority’s COVID-19 dashboard, there have been at least 9 outbreaks in warehouses across the city, with 54 positive cases in January.

OPH told CBC that positive cases are not always equal to the outbreaks it defines, and therefore will not always be listed on its dashboard.

OPH said: “To date, all workplaces have complied with IPAC [Infection Prevention and Control] The proposal does not voluntarily shut down without legal action. “

The organizer of the Warehouse Workers Center, Gagandeep Kaur, defended Amazon employees, saying that the details of their unsafe working conditions are not surprising.

Kaul said that warehouse jobs often have low wages and lack job security. People who work there are usually from immigrant communities, where she said it is difficult to find good jobs. She said that even before the pandemic, there were safety issues in these workplaces.

She said the pandemic has driven demand for online products, which in turn has driven workers to produce more products.

Amazon focuses on “transparent communication”

Amazon declined to disclose how many of the 500 employees at the Ottawa East Center have tested positive since March 2020. In a statement to CBC, it stated that “the case data in a particular location lacks a lot of background information.”

The company stated that its focus is “transparent communication with local health authorities and employees when new cases arise.”

When asked why the warehouse was not closed after an employee tested positive, Amazon stated that it would work closely with OPH when new cases appeared, but “we have no reason — or been instructed — to consider any other action. Instead of continuing to invest in and maintain our safety procedures.”

Gagandeep Kaur, who supports Amazon employees, called on public health agencies and the government to put pressure on the company to protect its employees from the spread of COVID-19 in the warehouse. 0:52

Zero tolerance policy

The public health agency stated that the decision to close the workplace depends on several factors, including the level of risk to the public, the nature of the job or business, and compliance with case and contact tracing investigations.

In a statement to CBC, an Amazon spokesperson stated that “nothing is more important than the health and safety of employees” and the company is doing its utmost to support them.

Although Amazon did not specify what measures the Ottawa East Center has taken, the spokesperson said that the company has invested $11.5 billion in safety measures worldwide, including “masks, temperature screening, plexiglass protective covers, disinfection products, An additional cleaning team and even an on-site testing program.”

The statement reads that the company has a strict zero tolerance policy for anyone violating COVID-19 procedures, which is implemented on every shift.

‘I am afraid of it’

However, this was not the experience of the employees with whom CBC spoke. The employee once said that they asked for leave because they “feel not safe enough to work in this place.” But they tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to work and stated that they believed they had been exposed to the virus at work.

“The fear of contracting COVID is very real. I am afraid of it, and I am afraid of giving it to my partner,” they said. “Then we eventually contracted COVID.”

Kaur said that if Amazon does not choose to close its warehouses after an active outbreak, OPH needs to follow Peel’s approach and intervene.

“These workers have always supported us in this crisis, risking their lives every day to meet the needs of other people in society,” Kaul said. “I think as a society, we owe them, the government must do something.”

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