Covid test shortage and changing policies worry Amazon workers

In the early days of the pandemic, Amazon was notorious for offering free tests to warehouse workers on site and even developed its own Covid testing kits for consumers. But the company has since closed its warehouse testing facilities, and now, with Covid cases on the rise across the United States, some Amazon workers say they are scrambling to find tests to determine if it’s safe to return to work.

And when they seek help from the company’s HR system, some employees say it’s so stressful that they risk losing their salary or accrued vacation.

“I really wish they would give us back the free Covid test. It’s scary how many cases of Covid we have in our building right now,” said an Amazon warehouse worker in Texas who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the press. hard. My partner and I had to go to two different places. We both have Aetna insurance and the same place they tested me for free tried to pay my partner $100.”

The employee’s partner, who also works for Amazon, eventually went to a nearby hospital to get tested for free. Both later learned they tested positive for Covid, despite being vaccinated.

Amazon is one of the largest employers in the United States and has nearly a million workers in the United States Like many companies, it has been hit by rising cases of Covid, many of which are the highly contagious omicron. Approximately 750,000 individuals in Amazon’s workforce are operations staff, most of whom work in fulfillment centers that fulfill e-commerce orders.

On January 7, Amazon reduced Covid leave benefits after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened the recommended isolation period for asymptomatic Covid cases to five days, from 10. Workers who tested positive or were exposed to the virus are now eligible for up to 40 One hour of paid vacation, down from the first two weeks. Workers also get a five-day excused absence period to get their test results back, which means they won’t be disciplined for not being able to come to work.

NBC News spoke to nine Amazon employees who had recently contracted Covid-19 or suspected they might be sick. At least five of them said they had trouble getting sick leave due to problems with the company’s human resource systems. Nearly all of the workers said they encountered long wait times when they tried to reach company representatives by phone. Five workers reported that Amazon incorrectly deducted the time they took paid time off or unpaid leave while they were sick.

Barbara Agrett, a spokeswoman for Amazon, said the company has been looking into problems with employees losing vacation. But she stressed that the company is focusing on vaccines.

“As we have done throughout the pandemic, we continue to invest heavily and work closely with public health authorities and our medical experts to help keep our employees and communities safe,” Agrett said in an email. “We continue to believe that the best way to protect our employees and communities on the front lines from Covid-19 is through vaccinations. To help, we have provided incentives and hosted more than 1,800 free on-site vaccination events at Amazon facilities across the United States, making vaccines and boosters Available to our employees and their families.”

Amazon workers who spoke with NBC said they believe the company’s efforts are still falling short, and that it is still difficult to communicate with support staff who can help when they test positive or think they may have the virus.

“I started calling from literally 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. when my husband got home,” said a worker in Illinois who recently contracted Covid-19 and asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the press. “I was going to get close to talking to someone, and then the phone would drop.”

The worker eventually got paid sick leave from Amazon after submitting papers from his doctor. But during their checkout, they said they lost 30 hours of vacation they earned, which Amazon has yet to return. Speaking between coughing fits, the worker said they are now worried they won’t be able to take a day off to rest or go back to the doctor if they experience complications from the virus.

Natalie Monárez, an Amazon warehouse worker on Staten Island and an Amazon workers union organizer, said she tried to contact Amazon for time off to get tested after learning that a colleague she works closely with tested positive. “I couldn’t get to a living person no matter how hard I tried,” Munarez said. She eventually went to speak to the building manager in person, who she said gave her time off after she insisted.

After Drew Dozenskas, another Amazon warehouse worker in Illinois, tested positive for Covid-19 over the holidays, he quickly notified Amazon that he was sick. But for several days after that, he received text messages from the company alerting him that it was deducting his missed shifts from his earned vacation balance.

“They have a kind of self-service HR system,” Dozenskas said. “That seems to be their goal – kind of taking the human out of the human resource.”

The workers’ accounts reflect similar complaints shared on Reddit forums for Amazon employees, with many users saying they were unable to access the Covid Resource Center or the Employee Resource Center, where two workers use Amazon systems to apply for sick leave or ask questions about their cases. Amazon acknowledged it was seeing higher-than-usual calls, and said it was working to increase its phone number and encourage employees to use self-service options available online.

Amazon workers who spoke to NBC News said it wasn’t always clear what the company required them to secure Covid leave. One employee needed documents for Amazon to be filled out by a doctor, while the other workers reported taking time off after submitting only the test result at home. Amazon said it accepts all FDA-approved home test kits, as well as PCR lab tests.

“They say a lot of things about their vacation and their stay and things like that,” Dozenskas said. “But when you actually get into it, it’s a little trickier than you think.”

long history

Since the start of the pandemic, Amazon has been criticized by some lawmakers and labor advocates for what they said was the company’s failure to protect the health and safety of warehouse employees, who were tasked with getting vital supplies to millions of Americans when the country was in trouble. It was in closed position. In June, the New York Times published an investigation highlighting problems with Amazon’s human resources department. The company said it has prioritized employee welfare and expanded its human resources staff.

In November, Amazon paid $500,000 to settle claims filed by the California attorney general that hid Covid-19 cases from fulfillment center workers. That same month, the Strategic Organization Center (SOC), a coalition group representing four labor unions, published a survey of nearly 800 Amazon workers in 40 states. More than a quarter said they went to work even though they felt ill. Eric Fromen, director of health and safety at SOC, said Amazon has the potential to do more to protect its employees.

“You expect a high level of performance from [Amazon]Because they are a very sophisticated business owner.”

In response to questions from NBC News, Amazon said it has made it clear that employees should not come to work if they are sick. The company said it has consistently based its response to the pandemic on guidelines from the CDC.

fix problems

Several workers who spoke to NBC News said Amazon had fixed a few things. One reported that the company helped them find a test appointment at a nearby urgent clinic, while another expressed gratitude for agreeing to paid sick leave relatively quickly. Several Amazon workers said they appreciate how the system sank two years after the pandemic began.

I feel like they’re overwhelmed with Covid issues. “It seems that this alternative is taking hold of everyone,” the Texas worker said. “I’m not sure Amazon has the ability to slow the spread of this.”

One source noted that it also appears that Amazon is making some changes, such as reducing the amount of paperwork employees have to submit to go on sick leave. The edits are designed to help clear the “case processing backlog,” according to screenshots of internal Amazon notifications obtained by NBC News. Previously, workers needed to submit test results at home along with a piece of paper indicating the date and their employee ID number, but this prerequisite has been dropped. Workers no longer have to prove their cohabitation with a sick person or guardianship of a sick minor. Amazon confirmed that it was relaxing some protocols.

The notifications were shared by an Amazon contractor who was not authorized to speak to the press. The contractor began answering calls to the company’s Covid-19 employee hotline in September, and estimated there were 10 to 15 minute delays between calls. However, since Thanksgiving, there has been little or no time between calls.

“At one point, we had 1,700 calls on hold,” the contractor said. “Some days it’s really overwhelming. Some days, to tell you the truth, I find myself trying to calm people down.”

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