Amazon on Thursday said that 19,816 Amazon and Whole Foods Market frontline employees across the U.S. have tested positive or are presumed positive for COVID-19.
The e-commerce giant said in a blog post that it did "a thorough analysis of data on all 1,372,000 Amazon and Whole Foods Market front-line employees across the U.S. employed at any time from March 1 to September 19, 2020" and, based on rates in the general population as reported by Johns Hopkins University, concluded its result is lower than expected.
In an emailed statement, the United Food and Commercial Workers International union slammed the outcome and called for "action by federal regulators and a full Congressional investigation."
Amazon's announcement arrived hours before the U.S. president himself said that he and the first lady had tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, but weeks after worker advocates called on it to divulge its infection rate.
It's a reminder that e-commerce, which has accelerated markedly as people have been unable or unwilling to frequent physical stores, has also been constrained by the pandemic. This report from Amazon comes as it prepares for its big annual Prime Day sale, usually held in July but now set for mid-October.
Mass merchants Walmart and Target have followed suit, which is both a defensive move against Prime Day and part of a wider push to get a jump on the holidays. More than a third of consumers are "most concerned" about delivery delays this season and more than half said they "will start holiday shopping sooner this year to take advantage of earlier deals," according to research from performance marketing company Fluent.
It's unclear how Amazon's revelation of a significant number of infections will be received by consumers or, as the UFCW suggested Thursday, watchdogs in and out of the government. In its blog post on Thursday, the e-retailer maintained that its actual number of employees testing or presumed positive for COVID-19 was much lower than the 33,952 it says would be forecast using Johns Hopkins' metrics for the general population.
The company also outlined several steps it has taken to mitigate workers' exposure to the disease, including extra sanitization, social distancing measures, increased testing, quarantines and "video-based contact tracing across our sites." The company said it will "continue to ramp up testing."
Amazon characterized its disclosure of its workforce infection rate as forthcoming, saying it is "something few if any companies and no other major retailers have done" and calling on other businesses to do the same. But UFCW International President Marc Perrone, in an emailed statement, called it "the most damning evidence we have seen that corporate America has completely failed to protect our country’s frontline workers in this pandemic."