A workers advocacy group is calling for Amazon to temporarily close its Shakopee fulfillment center for a deep clean after a doctor identified a likely COVID-19 case among employees.
The doctor told the employee there were no tests available but the symptoms were consistent with the illness caused by coronavirus and said the worker should self-quarantine, said Minneapolis-based Awood Center.
Awood said it has filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and wants Amazon to identify other workers who may have been exposed and to continue to pay them while they are quarantined.
Amazon has had workers at dozens of its facilities nationwide test positive for COVID-19. On Friday, the company said it did not know of any workers in Minnesota who had confirmed cases.
“We are encouraging those who are unwell to stay home and taking extreme measures to keep people safe in our building,” Amazon said in a statement.
In recent days, Amazon workers have held protests outside of facilities in Michigan, New York and Illinois where other cases have surfaced.
They have been asking for increased safety measures and relief during the pandemic such as reducing the speed at which they must work and having access to protective gear.
Some Twin Cities workers also have been asking Amazon for similar protections and said they don’t feel safe, especially as Amazon has hired more workers to handle a deluge of orders during the pandemic.
Amazon has hired more than 600 temporary workers in Minnesota in recent weeks, and 80,000 nationwide. Its goal is to recruit an additional 100,000 employees in total.
But that, said Hibaq Mohamed, who works at Amazon’s warehouse in Shakopee, has made it more difficult for workers to remain socially distant.
“Instead of reducing the number of workers, they are overcrowding. They are hiring more,” she said recently. “I’m feeling scared and unsafe.”
The lines to use the microwave during breaks have become longer and the bathrooms and hallways more crowded, she said.
As the pandemic has worsened in the U.S., Amazon has been stepping up its response.
The company is now disseminating face masks to warehouses for employees to wear.
It also is taking the temperature of workers as they start their shifts every day. Employees with fevers are sent home and paid up to five hours of their shift that day, said Jen Crowcroft, an Amazon spokeswoman.
The company has said workers will be able to come back to work after they’ve gone three days without a fever.
Amazon also has staggered start times and added more break times to help disperse crowds. It has suspended stand-up meetings and eliminated exit screening of workers to reduce congestion.
Additionally, the company said it increased cleaning and sanitization of door handles and handrails as well as other surfaces.
“Each week, Amazon has been doing more to try to deal with it, but there’s still such a high risk of transmission in the warehouse because of how many people we have in there, the surfaces we’re all touching and touching too frequently,” said William Stolz, an order picker for Amazon in Shakopee.
Amazon employs more than 2,000 workers at its warehouses across the Twin Cities.
Stolz welcomes the temperature checks, an action he said he and other workers had been advocating for.
But he said it’s hard to know if others may still have the virus since testing is still quite limited nationwide.
Stolz said that while hand sanitizer is now in plentiful supply around the warehouse, it can be hard to find disinfecting wipes to keep his station clean throughout the day.
He worries about his co-workers who are older and who have health conditions.
Orders of essential items such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies have increased since stay-at-home orders have been in place.
However, Stolz said the fulfillment center is still filling orders for lots of nonessential items too such as games, toys and phone cases.
“I look at it and think, I don’t think the stuff we’re shipping is worth the risk of anybody in my department catching this,” he said.