Ontario Amazon whistleblower says company didn’t disclose coronavirus case to all

Click to play video: 'Amazon employee says some workers not told about workplace COVID-19 case'
Amazon employee says some workers not told about workplace COVID-19 case
WATCH ABOVE: An Amazon employee in Brampton says he and other workers were not told about a recent positive case of COVID-19. Sean O’Shea reports – May 5, 2020

An Amazon warehouse employee in Brampton, Ont., says the company failed to tell all employees that a worker at the facility was infected with coronavirus.

“It’s COVID-19, it’s must-know knowledge. You have to tell your employees if there’s a case,” the man said.

Global News agreed not to identify the employee because he said he’s certain he would be terminated if Amazon knew he had gone public with his concerns.

“You’d lose your job for sure,” the veteran Amazon employee said, noting he is not a manager or supervisor with the company.

A senior Amazon vice president in the United States resigned last week in support of whistleblowers who have been fired by the company after calling attention to safety complaints at Amazon facilities.

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The company defended the termination of user experience designers who criticized Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers. Amazon said the two employees were terminated for “repeatedly violating internal policies.”

In Brampton, Amazon didn’t announce the news of the new COVID-19 case to everyone, the warehouse employee who contacted Global News said. He said the information was shared with him by a fellow employee who had received a text message from the company.

“He asked me, ‘Did you get the message?’ I said, ‘What message?'” the man recalled.

The employee said he found out about the COVID-19 case at the Amazon facility north of Toronto partway through his 10-hour shift on Friday. He has not returned to work since, citing concern for his safety and his family’s.

The text message shared with Global News read in part, “We want to let you know about a confirmed case of COVID-19 at YYZ4. The affected individual was last on site at 4/28.”

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YYZ4 refers to the Brampton facility where the employee works. The message was received three days after the employee who tested positive for the virus last worked at the plant.

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Amazon confirmed the diagnosis of an employee at its facility and said it was “supporting the individual who is recovering.”

In a written statement, Amazon spokesperson Timothy Carter said the company is “taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The company claimed it makes employees at a site aware of confirmed cases. The employee who came forward insisted he and other employees were not told.

“It’s COVID-19: it’s a life and death situation,” the employee told Global News.

He said he lives with elderly parents, who are not in good health, and is worried about transmitting the virus to them.

“A lot of people are surprised they haven’t shut down the building,” the employee said.

Upon finding out about the COVID-19 case when he arrived at work, he went home early. He said he would not have gone to work that day had he been advised about the case.

The employee said Amazon communicates with him through texting messaging and email frequently to offer overtime shifts, for example. He said he received no message or email to announce the COVID-19 case.

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“A lot of people were angry” when they found out the case from others, not the company itself, the man said.

On the same day that the COVID-19 case was revealed to certain employees, he said Amazon reinstated its employee “points” system.

The Amazon points system penalizes employees based on lateness, absences and other reasons. If someone acquires six points in a short period of time, the employee is asked to explain the reasons, or is terminated, he said.

But from mid-March until the end of April, the employee said Amazon had suspended the management system, giving more flexibility to deal with personal issues like child care.

However, the employee said workers were informed by email that the program would be back in effect.

“While I’m staying home, I’m being pointed by the attendance policy,” as well as not being paid, the man said.

Global News asked Amazon why it restarted its points program in the midst of the pandemic, but the company did not respond to the question.

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According to the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 information page, employees have “the right to know … the right to refuse dangerous work.”

“It should normally be sufficient for health and safety purposes to state that an (unnamed) person was in the workplace and that the person was infected.”

The Amazon employee who spoke to Global News said he hopes the company is more transparent if there are future cases.

“You advertise and tell people you’re one of the safest companies to work for … and then it’s not communicated,” he said.

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