Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Queens, New York, received a text Wednesday evening that they long feared might come: “We’re writing to let you know that a positive case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) was found at our facility today.”
This is the realization of a major threat to Amazon’s operations. Millions of people across the nation are cloistered inside their homes, many of them relying on the company to provide basic goods. Amazon is already struggling to meet demand, and some employees feel they’re being unfairly endangered by working in warehouses filled with other workers. It’s unclear how deliveries could continue if the workers who sort, pack, and ship Americans’ goods start getting sick in droves.
Though two office workers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters have been diagnosed with COVID-19, this is the first confirmed case of the disease among the company’s hourly warehouse employees in the United States. These workers make up the majority of Amazon’s 600,000-strong workforce.
According to the text, which was sent by a member of a workers’ group called Amazonians United, management sent day-shift workers home in order to disinfect the sorting facility, known as DBK1. Jonathan Bailey, an employee who sorts packages at the Queens facility, told me that workers were not notified of the positive case by Amazon management; he learned of it from other employees. He said workers believed that they were still expected to report for their night shift. In an email to The Atlantic, Amazon denied this, saying that it notified all associates about the positive test, and that workers were not expected to come in for their night shift.