Carteret mayor wants Amazon plant closed after virus spreads among workers
Carteret mayor Daniel Reiman is calling for the state Department of Health to shut down his township's Amazon fulfillment center after a report indicated that there may be as many as 30 cases of COVID-19 related to the facility.
Business Insider reported that an employee told them that more than 30 workers tested positive for COVID-19 at the Carteret fulfillment center.
Amazon spokeswoman Rachel Lighty told New Jersey 101.5 the company did not confirm the number for Business Insider but acknowledged positive cases exist at the million-square-foot facility that employs 1,600 people.
"We are supporting the individuals who are recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site," Lighty said in a written statement.
Another employee told Business Insider that more than 500 people work per shift with new hires coming, which does not allow for proper social distancing. The company notifies employees when a COVID-19 case is reported.
The mayor said he has heard from "many Amazon employees" who have told him about potentially hazardous working conditions, including unsafe distances between workers, lack of protective gloves, face masks, and eyewear, and fear of retaliation for use of sick time.
"I am calling on the New Jersey Department of Health and the Middlesex County Health Department to temporarily shut down this Amazon facility until all workers are tested for COVID-19 and the entire building is thoroughly and properly sanitized. I am calling on OSHA to inspect this facility and demand that Amazon provide proper safety equipment such as gloves, masks, eyewear, and sanitizers to its employees," Reiman said Friday in a written statement.
The mayor cited a Tyson plant in Indiana and a Smithfield plant in South Dakota that have temporarily closed for similar reasons.
"It is clear that this outbreak is contributing to the increased numbers of COVID-19 in Carteret and the surrounding area. This is disturbing on every level and is unacceptable by all standards," Reiman said.
Amazon on Friday announced it is extending its unlimited unpaid time off policy for warehouse workers through May 16 along with its double-time pay for workers in the United States and Canada.
"Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis — we have nearly 500,000 people in the U.S. alone supporting customers and we are taking measures to support each one," Lighty said.
Carteret Health Director Taqualla Lowman on Friday morning did not respond to New Jersey 101.5's message asking if Amazon reported any cases to the borough. Reiman did not respond to a request for additional comment on Friday afternoon.
"We are encouraging those who are unwell to stay home and taking extreme measures to keep people safe in our buildings. And, since the early days of this situation, we have worked closely with health authorities to proactively respond, ensuring we continue to serve customers while taking care of our associates and teams," Lighty said. "We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC, and adding distance between drivers and customers when making deliveries."
Amazon said it has distributed an additional 450,000 canisters of disinfectant wipes, which amounts to 45 million additional wipes, more than 50,000 hand sanitizers and 20,000 wall mounted sanitizer refill containers to its sites in addition to other cleaning materials. The temperature of more than 100,000 employees is taken daily.
Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, whose neighboring township has two Amazon facilities in the Avenel section, said that cases in individuals who work in town are usually reported to the community where the employee lives. He has not been informed of any cases at either facility.
The group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice organized workers from around the world to stage a paid "sickout" on Friday to protest a lack of protections against the COVID-19 virus, the firings of workers who spoke out against conditions and the climate crisis.
No protesters were outside the Robbinsville fulfilment center on Friday around 10 a.m., according to township spokesman John Nalbone.
The company fired employee Christian Smalls for organizing a protest over similar issues at an Amazon facility on Staten Island in March.
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said members who worked in Seattle and Minnesota were also fired.
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