Family of Amazon employee who died of COVID-19: ‘We want answers’
400tmax/iStockBy CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC NEWS
(NEW YORK) — As Amazon faces increased calls for transparency over how many employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the company confirmed to ABC News on Friday that another warehouse worker in New York has died amid the pandemic.
George Leigh, who worked at a facility in Long Island, died of complications from coronavirus on April 9, his niece Jasmine Leigh told ABC News. She added that George’s family was in the middle of planning a surprise party for his upcoming 60th birthday at the end of summer.
“He was always loving, caring and bright,” Jasmine Leigh said of her uncle. “He was really close to his mom and all his siblings. He would call his mom every day.”
“We just want to get answers from Amazon,” she added. “We just want to get his story out there because we don’t think that Amazon is doing enough to protect their workers. … We also want for Amazon to be more aware of their workers. Their workers aren’t just a number.”
Amazon did not respond to an ABC News inquiry over how many employees so far have died from COVID-19, but pressure appears to be building on the company as more deaths are reported in the media.
“We are saddened by the loss of an associate who had worked at our site in Bethpage, New York. His family and loved ones are in our thoughts,” Rachael Lighty, an Amazon spokesperson, told ABC News in a statement.
He was last at work March 28, according to Amazon, which also said it’s notified all associates within the building of their colleague’s death.
Earlier this week, a coalition of 13 attorneys general led by Maura Healey of Massachusetts sent a letter to Amazon pressing for stronger measures to protect the health and safety of workers amid the pandemic, and requesting information on how many workers have been infected and how many have died.
“We have requested but not received information on how many of the Companies’ workers have been infected with COVID-19, and how many have died from it. Please provide a state-by-state breakdown for each Company with this information,” the letter stated.
The letter added that the attorneys general were “dismayed to have heard multiple reports of Amazon warehouses with inadequate PPE and hand sanitizer, inability to practice social distancing, limited opportunity to wash hands, and other deficiencies that put employees at risk.”
Healey’s office said in a statement that the state attorneys general are “alarmed by recent media reports” that allege “insufficient data about infections and deaths” among Amazon workers.
In an interview that aired Sunday with CBS, Amazon’s head of operations, Dave Clark, didn’t answer when asked how many workers had tested positive for COVID-19.
“The actual … total number of cases isn’t particularly useful because it’s relative to the size of the building and then the overall community infection rate,” Clark told CBS.
“We know,” he added, when pressed for the figure. “I don’t have the number right on me at this moment because it’s not a particularly useful number.”
Lighty told ABC News ensuring the health and safety of employees is a “top concern” for Amazon, adding that they “expect to invest approximately $4 billion from April to June on COVID-related initiatives to get products to customers and keep employees safe.”
“We are going to great lengths to keep the buildings extremely clean and help employees practice important precautions such as social distancing and other measures,” Lighty said in the statement, adding that Amazon directly alerts, via text message, every person at a site anytime there’s a confirmed diagnosis, including information on when that individual was last in the building.
Jasmine Leigh said that she and her family would like to see even more information from Amazon when a worker tests positive for COVID-19, noting that George Leigh came in contact with so many people at work every day and that they don’t know how he was exposed to the virus.
“He trained a lot of people, so who knows how many people he got in contact with?” Jasmine Leigh said. “Them not saying anything is not helping anyone.”
Jasmine Leigh said that she wants her uncle to be remembered by “how many people loved him.”
“Even with him dying, we’ve got a lot of people, his coworkers reaching out to us and saying, ‘Oh, he was a very funny guy, he would come to work every day with a smile on his face and everybody would be so happy to see him,'” she said.
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