First Amazon Warehouse Worker Dies From Coronavirus

Amazon has reported the known coronavirus death among its workforce, the company confirmed Tuesday. The employee worked as an operations manager at a fulfillment center in Southern California and died of the virus on March 31, The Hill reports. Business Insider was the first to report the death, which comes as Amazon employees speak out against what they call unsafe working conditions amid the pandemic.

"We are saddened by the passing of a member of our management team in Hawthorne, California," Kristen Kish, a spokesperson for the online retailer, said in a statement to the outlet. "His family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting his fellow colleagues."

At this time, it is unclear when or where the employee contracted the virus. When he was last on-site on March 6, he had not exhibited any symptoms, Amazon explained. The employee traveled on an out-of-country vacation from March 7 to March 20. He began to feel unwell upon his return and did not return to work at the Amazon facility.

As GeekWire notes, the Hawthorne facility where the employee worked is among the warehouses that have experienced coronavirus outbreaks among employees. The Washington Post reports that workers in at least 74 Amazon warehouses across the country have tested positive for the virus. The growing number of cases has been cause for concern for many employees, who have been vocal about the working conditions. Some have even staged strikes.

"We're very low on masks, we don't have the proper gloves, all we want is for the building to be closed and professionally sanitized," Chris Smalls, management assistant at the company’s Staten Island warehouse and lead organizer of one strike, told NBC's Sam Brock the Today show. "I'm afraid to go to work."

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Calling the allegations "simply unfounded," Amazon later fired Smalls. His termination was followed two weeks later by the termination of three other employees who had criticized the company for remaining open. A spokesperson said that they felt the need to take such extreme action after those workers continually "violated" company policies. In a recent blog post, the company also said they remained committed to providing safe working conditions.

"Our top concern is ensuring the health and safety of our employees. We made over 150 process updates to help protect employees — from enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures to piloting new efforts like using disinfectant fog in our New York fulfillment center," the company wrote.