Area warehouse, distribution centers respond to COVID-19 concerns

A USPS postal carrier delivers mail to a residence on Baldwin Avenue in Meriden, Wed., Apr. 1, 2020. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal

After a worker at Amazon’s sorting center in Wallingford tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago, the town’s public health director took action.

“Our department has worked with Amazon’s industrial hygienist to mitigate that particular situation,” Steve Civitelli said. “We have not been notified of any other cases.”

Amazon, the Post Office, FedEX, UPS and other warehouse and distribution operations have had to defend themselves against allegations they haven’t done enough to protect workers against COVID-19.

Some retailers have temporarily increased wages or offered bonuses, but Whole Foods, Instacart and Amazon workers have planned walkouts this week to demand safer working conditions.

“First, postal workers must have safe workplaces,” American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein said in a letter to members. “Our union is working to ensure the Postal Service provides for the health and safety of our members and the mailing public. We have already secured important changes to leave, staffing and post office policies. We remain concerned that the distribution of personal protective equipment and sanitizers has been uneven across the country.”

Around 2,000 U.S. Postal Service employees nationwide are in quarantine because of concerns that they may have been exposed to coronavirus, and more than 60 have tested positive, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers and the postal service. A Bronx letter carrier died of complications from the virus last week, union officials said.

The unions are asking employees to report any unsafe working conditions.

“… we are sharing the latest information throughout our organization via video, e-mail, internal newsletters, employee conversations and through our Operations and HR functions,” according to a statement from the USPS. “We are encouraging healthy behaviors and protocols including frequent hand washing, use of sanitizers, and additional cleaning of work spaces, and are encouraging any employee who feels they are sick to stay home. We are offering liberal leave and have worked with our postal unions to temporarily expand leave options …”

The postal service says there is no evidence COVID-19 is passed through the mail or packages.

“… according to the World Health Organization, the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package … is also low,” the statement reads.

On Wednesday, 45 New York lawmakers and several unions asked Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos to improve safety precautions in its warehouses and close all facilities where workers have tested positive for the virus, according to CNBC.

“A compelling number of workers have come forward — and even run the incredible personal risk of walking off the job — to report that the actual situation in warehouses does not match Amazon’s public relations statements. Your workers deserve to have full protections and to be confident that they are not carrying COVID-19 home to their families,” a letter to Bezos stated, according to CNBC.

An Amazon spokesperson called the complaints unfounded, adding the distribution giant has implemented worker protections and improved pay and benefits.

A publicity firm released a video clip Wednesday with a message from North Haven Amazon fulfillment center General Manager Adrian Melendez

“Everything we do, every Amazonian every day, is helping to get critical in need supplies to people all across the United States, to help our communities, to help our hospitals, and to help our first responders as we go and combat the spread of this virus,” Melendez said.


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