Amazon accused of grossly underreporting COVID-19 cases to US labor agency

'Yes, we had nearly 20,000 cases last year but only 27 were directly work-related. Honestly.'

It's claimed Amazon reported only 27 COVID-19 cases among fulfillment center workers to federal government health officials, despite the company's admission that nearly 20,000 employees had been infected last year.

The Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), a coalition of four labor unions, has called for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate Amazon’s failure to report work-related cases accurately.

“Allowing Amazon to continue to evade effective federal oversight on COVID safety risks sending the message that the company can continue to prioritize its profits over its workers' health,” according to a letter [PDF] written by the SOC and directed to the US department of labour.

Under OSHA’s rules, employers must report injuries and illnesses sustained in the workplace. For example, COVID-19 infections fall under the “respiratory conditions” category in its database. A report [PDF] by the SOC analyzed data Amazon provided to OSHA and found only 27 cases were logged in 2020. The online retail giant, however, admitted last year in October: “In reality, 19,816 employees have tested positive or been presumed positive for COVID-19.”

“Amazon has failed to explain why it believes that out of the tens of thousands of its employees infected with COVID-19, virtually none of them were infected at work,” the SOC said in a statement.

“This persistent pattern of apparent non-compliance would be alarming on its own at any employer – not to mention the second-largest private employer in the entire country. However, these evident failures have also happened with little or no federal oversight.”

Data revealed from public information requests filed by the union group to local health agencies in California, Utah, Oregon, showed that there were hundreds more cases of COVID-19 contracted by workers at multiple warehouses across those states after October 2020. One fulfillment center in Salt Lake City, Utah, recorded 460 cases as of 1 February 2021, the report said.

The numbers suggest it's unlikely that only 27 cases were directly work-related, the SOC argued. Amazon has committed a “criminal violation” by failing to accurately report the true number cases, the SOC alleged.

“Amazon’s apparent failure to properly report COVID-19 cases to OSHA is not a minor 'record-keeping' issue...Amazon put workers’ lives at risk by depriving OSHA of information about COVID-19 cases in its facilities, undermining the agency’s ability to identify COVID safety problems and to hold the company accountable for fixing them. For these reasons, it is a criminal violation of federal law to file false reports with OSHA, as Amazon may have done in this case,” it warned in its report.

Earlier this month, Amazon was ordered to fork over $500,000 in settlement fees after California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a complaint, accusing the company for underreporting COVID-19 cases to health agencies and its own staff.

Amazon did not immediately respond to The Register’s request for comment. ®

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