The Supply Chain Matters blog shares some recent news involving online retail platform provider Amazon related to workforce safety and facility labor union organizing efforts.
Temporary Closing of New Jersey Customer Fulfillment Facility
Business Broadcast Network CNBC has reported that employees at Amazon’s Robbinsville New Jersey facility known as PNE5 were notified on Saturday that this site would temporarily close after a concerning number of facility workers tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
An Amazon spokesperson indicated to CNBC that Amazon employees will be paid any shifts that they will miss while the facility is closed, which is expected to be until December 26. Noted in the report was the following detailed statement provided:
“Through our in-house COVID-19 testing program, we detected an increase in the number of asymptomatic positive cases at our PNE5 facility in northern New Jersey and have proactively closed the site until December 26th out of an abundance of caution. This is exactly why we built the program — to identify asymptomatic cases and ensure that we can take swift action to prevent spread.”
Amazon did not disclose the number of employees that tested positive.
The report notes that this is not the first time an Amazon fulfillment facility has been temporarily shut down because of virus spread. In March, a deliver station in Queens, New York was temporarily closed and a facility in Shepherdsville, Kentucky was also closed. Most of the online retailer’s fulfillment facilities have remained open during the pandemic because they have been categorized as essential facilities.
Further reported was that last week, Dave Clark, who manages Amazon’s retail operations, wrote to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel asking that warehouse employees, Whole Foods workers and data center employees “receive the Covid-19 vaccine at the earliest appropriate time.”
Amazon California Workers Urged to Obtain Weekly Virus Testing
In the midst on one of the highest individual U.S. state infection rates, Amazon has encouraged its workers in California to obtain weekly COVID-19 testing, as that state continues to roll out emergency workplace protections and added lockdown measures.
Reportedly, a December 14th notice posted on an internal company web site indicates: “In accordance with Cal/OSHA’s new Covid-19 emergency regulations, we encourage all Amazon employees to get tested for COVID-19 at least once a week starting the week of December 14th”
The notice to Amazon employees called on workers to get tested outside of scheduled work hours and offered up to 1.5 hours of compensation as reimbursement for costs associated with “time and travel.” The implication is that employees need to seek out free testing, where tests are not available within facilities. Amazon’s own testing program reportedly began deploying during the summer and calls for employee self-testing utilizing a video as guidance, with a professional supervising.
Reportedly, a separate notice to the state’s Whole Foods full-time employees indicated that virus testing would be covered by employer.
Earlier in the month California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued revised rules requiring employers to provide COVID-19 testing when there are multiple infections in a workplace. Rules were strengthened for individual case tracking, reporting and employee communication.
A report by Business Network CNBC indicated that the move on testing came as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra began investigating the online retailer’s safety measures at warehouses in that state. A petition was filed seeking a Superior court judge to order Amazon to comply with subpoenas requesting information on the number of virus infections and deaths in California facilities. The Attorney General alleged that Amazon had yet to provide adequate information which the online retailer denied.
Amazon Faces Worker Unionization Election at Alabama Facility
Distribution center workers at the Amazon customer fulfillment center located in Bessemer, Alabama have received government approval to hold a worker unionization representation election.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently ruled that employees at this facility can decide whether they seek to create a bargaining unit as part of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store labor union. The date of such an election is yet to be determined.
The organizing RWDSU labor union have declined any additional comment relative to specific grievances, but the union’s website has called for changes to procedures for disciplining, firing and safety.
An Amazon spokesperson provided a statement to Business Broadcast Network CNBC:
“Amazon has created more than 5,000 full-time jobs in Bessemer, with average pay of $15.30 per hour, health care and other benefits. We don’t believe this group represents the majority of our employees’ views. Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our overall pay, benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”
The National Public Radio report points out that the RWDSU union was among most vocal critics of Amazon’s push for a second headquarters in the New York borough of Queens.
As one of the second largest employers in the Retail industry, next to Walmart, there are obvious high stakes to such a unionization effort. According to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon’s global-wide workforce is estimated to be upwards of 1.1 million employees.
A NLRB unionization petition typically requires at least 30 percent of the workers to sign paperwork indicating that they desire a bargaining unit. Multiple reports indicate that Bessemer workers that would make-up the bargaining unit number a total of 1500 while Amazon contends that the total worker number exceeds 5,000 workers.
An NLRB hearing began on Friday, is expected to take several days and will evaluate next steps, procedures, and a specific voting date.
While the company has increased bonuses for workers during the ongoing COVID-19 and high-volume holiday fulfillment period, the company’s workforce has been increasingly concerned about activity quota, workplace related accidents and overall safety.
Organizing efforts and labor unrest directed at Amazon’s facilities are not a new phenomenon and the online retailer has taken a firm stand on resisting such efforts. During many previous holiday surge periods, Amazon’s unionized workers in Germany as well as airline pilots working at contracted air freight carriers supporting Amazon Prime flight operations have each been involved in visible worker protests.
The obvious issue is that the online retailer has deep financial pockets to outlast individual labor organizing campaigns.
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