A worker assembles a box for delivery at Amazon’s distribution center in Baltimore, Maryland, the United States, April 30, 2019.
Clodagh Kilcoyne | Reuters
An Amazon warehouse worker in Long Island, New York, died of coronavirus, the company confirmed.
George Leigh, who worked at the Amazon Bethpage distribution center in New York, known as DNY4, died of Covid-19 on April 9. Leigh, 59, left a daughter and several grandchildren, as well as siblings and a mother. Leigh worked as a sorting associate and learning ambassador at DNY4, which involved sorting packaging and pallets, as well as training new employees.
“We are saddened by the loss of an associate who worked at our site in Bethpage, New York,” Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski said in a statement. “His family and loved ones are on our mind.”
The worker’s death comes as Amazon faces increasing pressure to disclose the number of workers who tested positive or died from the virus. In addition, tensions have increased between Amazon and warehouse workers across the country. Warehouse workers urged the company to put in place more safety protections, including providing paid sick leave and closing facilities where there are positive cases of additional cleaning.
It is not known how or when Leigh contracted the coronavirus. Leigh was the last to install on March 28, Amazon said. Leigh told his manager that day that he was tired and “needed to go home and rest,” said George’s brother Todd Leigh in an interview with CNBC. Amazon disputed this claim, claiming that Leigh had not contacted the site to say that he was not feeling well.
Leigh’s symptoms became so severe that he was rushed to the Good Samaritan Hospital medical center on April 9, complaining that he could not breathe, said Todd Leigh. Leigh died shortly after arriving at the hospital, less than two weeks after first reporting symptoms of the virus.
A flyer sent to George Leigh’s office, DNY4, encouraged employees to attend a memorial service in honor of his death.
Amazon has repeatedly declined to comment on the number of warehouse workers who have died from the virus nationwide. Leigh’s death marks the sixth known case of an Amazon worker who died of the virus, following reports of the death of Jeffersonville, Indiana; Waukegan, Illinois; Staten Island, New York; Hawthorne, California, and Tracy, California.
The company has not provided a total number of workers who tested positive for the coronavirus at its facilities. As a result, Amazon workers have attempted to keep an unofficial tally of confirmed and unconfirmed cases across the country. Jana Jumpp, an Amazon, Indiana worker who tracks the cases, estimates that at least 900 workers have contracted the coronavirus and at least 10 workers have died. Amazon operates 175 warehouses across the country and some warehouses have reported dozens of cases.
“He was so scared”
As the number of cases has increased, so have calls to the company to release data showing all employees who have fallen ill or died from the coronavirus. On Tuesday, 13 US attorneys general asked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey to provide a state-by-state breakdown of this information.
In one 60 minute interview which aired on Sunday, Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of operations, said he did not know the total number of coronavirus infections in the company.
“I don’t have the right number on me right now because it’s not a particularly useful number,” said Clark in the interview. He said infection rates are “generally just below” what they are in surrounding communities.
Todd Leigh said he challenges Clark’s characterization that sharing data would not be useful, adding that this is another example of the company’s attempts to “shirk” the responsibility of workers falling ill and dying at work during the pandemic.
He said he and other family members urged Amazon to look into the circumstances of his brother’s death and the conditions at DNY4. Todd Leigh said he was getting more and more worried about talking to his brother in the last weeks of his life. He continued to work at Amazon at the height of the pandemic and without a face mask.
Amazon started deploying face masks for employees on April 4 and he demanded that all workers wear them on April 10. He also started to establish social distancing rules in his facilities on March 29.
By the time the masks were distributed to workers, it was already too late for George Leigh. Todd Leigh said his brother had managed to get a mask at his establishment during his last week of work, but he suspected that his brother was already sick with coronavirus.
George Leigh got in touch with new employees almost daily, training them on the use of the equipment at the distribution center. This made compliance with the rules of social distancing “almost impossible,” said Todd Leigh.
Amazon said it had made “great efforts” to keep employees safe during the coronavirus. In addition to providing face masks and a disinfectant, the company also reduced the size of training groups at its facilities and staggered the introduction of new employees into its facilities. Improved cleanups were also introduced to its facilities in early March, said Amazon.
Despite these measures, Todd Leigh said his brother felt that Amazon was not doing enough to protect its employees. While George Leigh was home sick with the virus, he considered never going back to work at Amazon, given the security risks.
“He was so scared,” said Todd Leigh. “Before that, he questioned [going to work]. But he had bills to pay, so he said, “I have my gloves on, I’m going to do my job and try to stay safe.” “
A DNY4 employee said he chose to stay home for fear of catching the virus. The worker, who knew the deceased, asked to remain anonymous for fear that speaking to the press would jeopardize his work.
The worker said he hadn’t worked a shift at Amazon since early April. They added that they thought it was not safe to return to work because “too many people are getting sick” and that they live with their elderly mother and a young son. The worker said he cried when he learned that George Leigh died last month after developing a friendship while working together at Amazon.
Shortly after George Leigh’s death, Todd Leigh said that his younger brother and his wife, who both lived with George Leigh, have since tested positive for the coronavirus. After 21 days in quarantine, the pair appear to be recovering from the virus, said Todd Leigh.
Todd Leigh said his brother’s death left a hole in the family and they are still looking for answers from Amazon on how he got sick. Amazon said that when DNY4 representatives spoke to George Leigh’s family, they never stated that the official cause of his death was the coronavirus, but only that they believed he had Covid-19. However, Todd Leigh said that the medical examiner at the Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center confirmed that George Leigh had died from complications from the coronavirus.
He said he had become so frustrated with the company’s response to his brother’s death that he wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing his concerns. He said he had also filed a complaint with the New York Department of Labor.
“What we’re really trying to do is shed light not only on what happened to us, but on Amazon’s practices,” said Todd Leigh. “If someone from Amazon just took a minute to look at the situation, maybe they could tell the difference. But at this point, my feeling is that they don’t really care.”