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Amazon employee in Ruskin tests positive for Coronavirus

Some lawmakers are concerned that the company is not doing enough to protect workers during the pandemic
Packages on a conveyor belt await loading into trucks at the Ruskin Amazon facility.
Packages on a conveyor belt await loading into trucks at the Ruskin Amazon facility. [ BORCHUCK, JAMES | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Mar. 30, 2020

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An employee who works at an Amazon warehouse in Ruskin has tested positive for coronavirus, the company said Sunday.

Amazon did not say when the person tested positive or what their role was, but said they have notified employees at the site. Any employees who had close contact with the person will be asked to stay away from the building and self-quarantine for 14 days, the company said.

Staffers diagnosed with the virus or placed in quarantine will receive up to two weeks of paid leave, Amazon said. Previously, employees classified as part-time were not eligible for paid-time off. Hourly workers can also use unlimited unpaid time off through the end of April.

Amazon’s Ruskin fulfillment center opened in 2016. The 1.1-million-square-foot warehouse employs more than 2,000 people who work alongside robots to sort products for quick delivery around the region. The facility continues to operate even after Hillsborough County declared a “safer-at-home” order, because Amazon is deemed an “essential business.”

So far the virus has infected workers in at least 14 other Amazon facilities, including in Jacksonville, raising concerns that delivery and warehouse workers are at particular risk for the virus as they race to fulfill spiking orders. Nationwide, the company says it plans to hire an additional 100,000 employees to deal with increased demand as many shops are closed and cooped-up Americans order online.

A group of lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Friday, calling on the company to take extra measures to ensure workers are protected during the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are growing more concerned that Amazon does not possess an adequate internal pandemic preparedness and response plan,” they wrote. “Even prior to the dire global health crisis, these facilities have a proven record of high health and safety standard violations.”

Some workers at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, are planning a walk-out Monday to demand hazard pay and a full, thorough cleaning of their building after an employee there tested positive for the virus.

The company says it is taking additional steps to protect and support workers, including increased sanitization of frequently-touched areas in facilities, like door handles, lockers and touch screens, and a new $25 million relief fund offering grants to employees and contractors facing financial hardship.

Amazon also has reshaped its warehouse workflow to promote social distancing, the company said. Shift times and breaks are staggered, chairs are spread out in break rooms, stand-up meetings are cancelled and apps are used for training, the company said. Employees also are required to sanitize their workspaces at the beginning and end of each shift and reminded to wash their hands often.

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“We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

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