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Amazon begins temperature checks for warehouse workers as coronavirus spreads

It's already hired 80,000 of its planned 100,000 new employees.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
4 min read

An Amazon worker at an Orlando, Florida, warehouse in April 2019. 

Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Amazon on Thursday unveiled a broad series of new measures to protect its employees during the coronavirus pandemic, amid loud and sustained criticism from employees, advocacy groups and lawmakers about the company's handling of the crisis.

As early as next week, temperature checks will be instituted across Amazon's entire US and European operations network, which include its warehouses and delivery centers, as well as Whole Foods grocery stores, according to Dave Clark, the head of worldwide operations, in a blog post Thursday. 

He said the online retailer started these checks on Sunday and is already doing temperature checks daily for more than 100,000 employees. It's now asking workers who register over the CDC-recommended 100.4 Fahrenheit to go home.

As of the end of 2019, Amazon employed 798,000 people worldwide, with the vast majority being warehouse workers. The company already allows its corporate employees to work from home. 

Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos late last month said an order of millions of face masks was delayed as hospitals and first responders across the globe have been working to get their own supplies. Clark said those orders are now starting to arrive and are being distributed to workers. "Masks will be available as soon as today in some locations and in all locations by early next week," Clark said.

He added that any N95 masks the company receives will either be donated to health care workers or sold at cost to health care or government customers through Amazon Business.

Walmart, the largest private employer in the US, said this week it started temperature checks for its workers and will be making masks available for employees.

Additionally, Clark said the company has already hired over 80,000 new employees, out of the 100,000 US workers it had said it planned to bring on to respond to a spike in demand from customers. He said Amazon plans to "go well beyond" its initial investment of $350 million in additional pay to its workers.

The new changes come during the most turbulent time in the history of the world's largest e-commerce company. Customers are flooding to its online stores, as millions are asked to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus , which has already killed tens of thousands of people worldwide. Added to that complex logistics puzzle, local and national news have already reported of a handful of Amazon warehouse workers testing positive for the pandemic.

Several Amazon and Whole Foods employees, fearful and frustrated about having to work through the crisis, have organized walkouts to call for better protections. Organized labor, which doesn't represent Amazon workers in the US, along with advocacy groups and many politicians have joined this push to get Amazon to do more for its workers.

Amid this heated situation, the company fired a walkout organizer on Monday. The man, Christian Smalls, had violated a company-mandated quarantine order, which was instituted after he was in close contact with an infected employee when he attended his warehouse's strike this week. Smalls quickly gained national attention and continues to push for his former Staten Island facility to close to be cleaned and ensure more employees aren't sickened.

Amazon's leaders have stressed they are now providing an essential service to people, especially vulnerable populations like the elderly, to show how they are helping and not just trying to make money. The company has also announced a series of donations to help workers and local businesses. So far, the delivery system appears to be working, though packages are arriving more slowly than usual and criticism has gotten more vocal this week.

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Clark, who said Amazon already put in place 150 health and safety process changes, seemed to address the many news reports of lax or spotty safety measures in Amazon's warehouses and delivery networks, which could endanger both customers and employees. 

"With over 1,000 sites around the world, and so many measures and precautions rapidly rolled out over the past several weeks," he said, "there may be instances where we don't get it perfect, but I can assure you that's just what they'll be—exceptions."

As part of Thursday's announcement, Clark said Amazon said has relaxed a new policy for paid time off. Before, it only granted two weeks of paid time off for employees who tested positive for the coronavirus or were quarantined. Clark said Thursday anyone who is "presumptively diagnosed," but can't get a coronavirus test, can access that paid test off. Many employees have asked for more paid time off regardless if they were infected or presumed infected to help them avoid getting sick.

On Wednesday night, a large group of union leaders and New York lawmakers demanded Amazon institute several other changes. They called for warehouses to be closed down until new protocols, like independent health and safety inspection and monitoring, are put in place. They also called for Smalls to be reinstated.

Amazon is one of several companies that is ramping up hiring during the health crisis, with some retailers and grocers working to respond to huge increases in demand. Those employers include Walmart, Kroger and Instacart. Those hundreds of thousands of new jobs, though, pale in comparison to the massive spike in unemployment claims in the US, which topped 6.6 million in the latest weekly report.

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