Inside Amazon's Kent fulfillment center, a proving ground for the company's coronavirus response

Benjamin Romano, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

More recently, the volume of complaints has quieted. Five BFI4 employees who had raised concerns to The Seattle Times in March and April did not respond to questions about changes implemented since.

Amazon expects to have racked up at least $4 billion in coronavirus costs during the three-month period ending Tuesday. That, coupled with its already high profile and the toll the virus has taken on its workers, has driven a surge of interest from health officials, regulators, elected officials and other businesses seeking to monitor and learn from the company's pandemic response.

Amazon intends to oblige as much as it can, Cheeseman said, adding that the company has had reporters tour buildings in dozens of locations across the country to see safety measures and expects to do more.

How it works

Safety measures are evident as soon as you approach the front door. A white adhesive self-cleaning surface covers the door handles -- implemented first at a Denver warehouse and spread throughout the system. A janitor came by to clean the handles, as part of a stepped-up sanitation practice including a tripling of cleaning staff.

Everyone's temperature is taken on arrival each day by an infrared camera, one of a suite of precautions meant to keep sick or potentially sick workers out of the facility. Temperature screens have turned away a "low percentage" of employees across the company, Cheeseman said, but some people flagged for elevated temperatures later tested positive for COVID-19.


An employee turned away by the temperature scan is paid for up to five hours that day and asked to stay home until they've been free of fever for at least 72 hours without medication. During their absence, they may use any paid-time off they have or apply for a leave of absence.

Cheeseman said the screenings serve as a reminder "that we want you to be using your paid or unpaid time off if you're not feeling well." Amazon's temporary unlimited unpaid time off policy was replaced in May. Now, if employees need to miss work to care for a family member or if they are at elevated risk from COVID-19, they can apply for leaves of absence.

Reminders of COVID-19 and what to do about it, both on and off the clock, are displayed conspicuously. One offers tips for safety while commuting to work, another describes proper mask handling.

"When people leave here, they remember the things they're seeing," Cheeseman said. "That's important because everybody is not just working through this pandemic. They're living through it as well."


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