Amazon hires 80,000 new workers, will take temperatures and provide face masks after public outcry

Amazon fulfillment center warehouse.

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Amazon is taking greater steps to protect warehouse workers following weeks of public outcry. 

In a blog post on Thursday, Dave Clark, who runs Amazon’s retail operations, said the company will start taking employees’ temperatures when they report to work and supply them with face masks. 

Temperature checks began last Sunday at select sites in the U.S. and will now begin to roll out to Amazon’s entire operations network and footprint of Whole Foods Stores in the U.S. and Europe by early next week, Clark said. Anyone who registers a fever over 100.4 will be told to go home and will only be allowed to return after they’ve gone three days without a fever, he added. 

Previously, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the company placed purchase orders for millions of face masks for workers. Clark said those orders are now arriving and they’re distributing them “to our teams as quickly as possible.”

Masks will become available for workers as soon as today in some locations and in all facilities by early next week, Clark added. Any N95 masks ordered by Amazon will be deployed to medical workers or sold at cost to health-care and government organizations, Clark said. 

The company also gave an update on its efforts to add warehouse workers and delivery drivers. Last month, Amazon said it would hire an additional 100,000 workers amid a surge in online orders due to the coronavirus outbreak. Clark said Amazon has already hired more than 80,000 people into these roles and has spent more than $150 million to support workers, reflecting its efforts to raise pay by $2 per hour. 

The moves come after Amazon faced criticism from legislators, union leaders and warehouse workers about a lack of protective measures for employees who continue to come to work amid the coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, workers at a Romulus, Michigan, facility walked out, while workers at a Staten Island, New York, facility staged a protest on Monday. 

Amazon has downplayed the walkouts, saying only a small percentage of workers at the two facilities walked out this week and there was no disruption to operations. The company has also touted other safety measures and benefits it has implemented at warehouses in recent weeks, such as increased cleaning and paid leave for employees who are under quarantine after being exposed to someone with the coronavirus.

On Monday, Amazon fired Chris Smalls, the Amazon employee in Staten Island who organized the walkout there. Amazon said it fired Smalls because he violated social distancing rules after being told to go under quarantine for working near someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. Smalls said he was fired in retaliation for organizing the walkout.

On Wednesday, a group of New York lawmakers, union leaders and Amazon workers called on Amazon to close warehouses where employees tested positive for coronavirus.

Amazon has reported cases of the coronavirus at numerous facilities across the country. Workers have called for the company to close down facilities where a case has been reported, provide paid sick leave for employees and take additional measures to protect employees on the job. Some employees say it’s impossible for them to follow social distancing rules at Amazon’s facilities, which puts them at a greater risk of catching the virus.

In the blog post, Clark said Amazon will continue to conduct daily audits of the new health and safety measures it has announced. The company will also use its “top machine learning technologists” to detect areas where it can improve social distancing in its facilities by relying on internal camera systems. 

“With over 1,000 sites around the world, and so many measures and precautions rapidly rolled out over the past several weeks, there may be instances where we don’t get it perfect, but I can assure you that’s just what they’ll be — exceptions,” Clark said.

Amazon employees at multiple facilities who spoke to CNBC argued that the company’s efforts aren’t enough to keep them safe. They say uneven safety precautions at facilities across the country have sown feelings of distrust between workers and their managers. Workers say they’ve become worried that managers aren’t being honest about whether employees are sick with the virus, so that they can keep the facilities open. 

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