Amazon will start reporting COVID case numbers in California to settle AG’s investigation

An Amazon employee enters the fulfillment center in Kent, Wash., and is handed a mask from another employee using tongs, before he can begin a shift in the massive package handling warehouse. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

In a legal settlement described as the first of its kind in the nation, Amazon agreed to disclose the number of new COVID-19 cases in its fulfillment and distribution network in California to workers and local health authorities.

The agreement resolves an investigation by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, and promises to end some of the secrecy surrounding the number of COVID cases at specific Amazon locations in California.

Bonta’s office said Amazon “failed to adequately notify warehouse workers and local health agencies of COVID-19 case numbers, often leaving them in the dark and unable to effectively track the spread of the virus.”

A lack of data about cases in specific locations has forced some workers to resort to tracking cases on their own.

But Amazon, which denied wrongdoing as part of the settlement agreement, downplayed the significance of the change. Amazon says it already notifies employees who’ve been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, in addition to alerting local health authorities to new cases.

The settlement, filed with the state Superior Court in Sacramento County, requires court approval. There’s no indication that Amazon will voluntarily adopt the new practices nationally.

An Amazon spokesperson said the settlement with the attorney general simply resolves a technicality related to the structure of bulk notifications about new COVID cases under California law.

“We’re glad to have this resolved and to see that the AG found no substantive issues with the safety measures in our buildings. We’ve worked hard from the beginning of the pandemic to keep our employees safe and deliver for our customers—incurring more than $15 billion in costs to date—and we’ll keep doing that in months and years ahead,” said Barbara M. Agrait, a senior public relations manager for Amazon Operations, in an emailed statement.

Under the settlement, Amazon agreed to go further, notifying employees and subcontractors about the number of new COVID-19 cases in their locations within 24 hours, and notifying local health authorities within 48 hours.

In addition, the agreement calls for Amazon to pay $500,000 to help enforce California’s consumer protection laws.

The settlement will cause Amazon to “end harmful labor practices that concealed COVID-19 case numbers from workers and to provide key information on workplace protections,” Bonta’s office said, calling it consistent with California’s “right-to-know” law, A.B. 685, authored by Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes.