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JFK8 Amazon workers threaten walkout due to COVID-19 concerns

A worker wearing a protective mask and gloves

A worker wearing a protective mask and gloves carries Inc. boxes during a delivery in the Bronx on Thursday. Credit: Bloomberg/Angus Mordant

Workers at Amazon’s JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island are planning a walkout Monday, according to organizers who charge the company is lacking correct safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there are no unionized Amazon warehouses in the United States as of yet, the RWDSU, or Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, says it has been working with workers to organize at facilities across the country including JFK8. 

“All employers need to prioritize the health and safety of their workforce at this time.  Unfortunately, Amazon appears to be prioritizing maximizing its enormous profits even over its employees’  safety - and that is unacceptable," Stuart Appelbaum, president of the organization said in a statement Sunday.

News reports have said that an employee has tested positive at the facility which has about 4,500 full-time employees including about 200 from Long Island. 

The company through a statement Sunday said that they have made employees at the site aware of confirmed cases and asked anyone who was in close contact with the diagnosed individual to stay home with pay for 14-days in self-quarantine.

In addition, the company said it implemented daily temperature screenings.

The statement from Amazon said that the company is "committed to protecting our employees through our preventative health measures, enhanced cleaning and sanitation, social distancing enforcement, and broad suite of new benefits, including extended paid leave options for fulltime employees."

"We are consulting with local and federal health authorities and medical experts on how to handle building closures for deep cleaning, if an employee tests positive for COVID-19," the company said. "Our process evaluates where the employee was in the building, for how long, how much time has passed since they were onsite, and who they interacted with, among other items, in determining how to appropriately handle the situation."

They said accusations of lacking safety protocols are unfounded.

Amazon's JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island -- the retail giant's first  in New York -- sprawls across 855,000 square feet, an area roughly the size of 15 football fields. The center, which opened in September 2018, can handle up to 1 million packages a day, according to a Newsday business story published in December.

JFK8 -- named for John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the airports closest to the center -- primarily serves the New York metro area and parts of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Sunday, Amazon said "the truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day."