- On March 17, Amazon announced that it would only accept orders for goods such as medical and sanitation supplies, and other high-demand products amid the global coronavirus outbreaks.
- Amazon also announced it would delay delivery of non-essential goods in the U.S. and Europe, saying the company would only deliver essential items in Italy and France, regardless of what it had in stock.
- However, Amazon workers at facilities across the US claim that the e-commerce giant is continuing to deliver non-essential items, like nipple clamps, Nintendo Switches, and home hand spa stations.
- In response, Amazon told Business Insider that it is "focused on stocking and delivering items that are a higher priority for our customers, including household staples, sanitizers, baby formula, and medical supplies."
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As businesses close their doors and risk financial ruin to help curb spread the of the coronavirus, Amazon has maintained operation, saying it is "working around the clock to ensure we continue to provide essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic."
However, several Amazon workers who work at various facilities across the nation say they're putting their lives at risk to fulfill orders that are far from "essential."
"We're creating more disaster than we're helping. There's nothing on our truck that is essential," Kathy Knight, a driver lead for Amazon in Pennsylvania, told Business Insider. "I mean, my life is essential - but there's nothing else on that truck that is."
Amazon continues to ship out various non-essential items, including nipple clamps, dollhouses, and home hand spas
On March 17, Amazon announced to its vendors that it would be prioritizing "essential goods" such as household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products amid the global coronavirus outbreaks.
Days later the company also announced it would delay deliveries of non-essential goods in the U.S. and Europe through to late April, saying, for instance, that it would only deliver essential items in Italy and France - where many residents have been under strict lockdowns for over a month - "to respect anti-coronavirus safety measures in the workplaces," Reuters reported.
Kristen Kish, a spokesperson for Amazon, told Business Insider that Amazon "continues to remain focused on stocking and delivering items that are a higher priority for our customers, including household staples, sanitizers, baby formula, and medical supplies."
However, several employees who work across various stages of Amazon's fulfillment process - from intaking products from vendors to packaging orders to ship out to customers, and delivering boxes to their doors - told Business Insider that the company is continuing to deliver most of what customers orders despite their pledges to focus on essential services.
One inbound associate from Houston, Texas, recalled scanning in rhinestones, keto diet food, and dog brushes from vendors as recent as last week.
"But from what I can see on my end, I'm not seeing the essentials. I don't see paper towels, or clorox wipes, or bleach," she said.
While packaging items to be sent out to customers, two outbound associates - one in Phoenix, Arizona, and another in Hazleton, Pennsylvania - both reported sorting through various sex toys such as nipple clamps and dildos and sending out items like sunglasses. One Amazon customer had recently ordered 392 different kinds of nipple clamps, a worker said.
A Phoenix, Arizona associate expressed frustration after packaging nipple clamps and sunglasses to send out to customers, even as a nearby building confirmed an employee had tested positive for the coronavirus.
"We're not only sending out essential items to customers, but we're sending stupid stuff like sex toys - it doesn't make sense to send that type of stuff out to people," the associate in Arizona who wished to remain anonymous told Business Insider.
Knight, an Amazon driver who makes anywhere from 150 to 190 stops a day to deliver as many as 300 packages in Pennsylvania, began taking note of the items she was delivering after Amazon announced it would be prioritizing critical items.
"In one day, I had a home hand spa, glittery girl dolls, a dollhouse, Xbox games, and racecar tracks," the 47-year-old told Business Insider, noting that she had not included several days after the announcement to account for orders that had already been placed prior to the March 17 announcement.
In the time since Amazon's announcement that it would be prioritizing delivering essential products, she said she hadn't delivered medical supplies, groceries, or household cleaning supplies. The last "essential" items she delivered were bulk orders of toilet paper rolls, she said, as people began to hoard the paper product in the early days of the outbreak.
But, she says what really set her off was delivering ping pong paddles in a wealthy neighborhood.
"I'm like, 'Are you serious?' I am coming out here and risking my life for seeing taking this home to my children and my boyfriend. So you can have ping pong paddle?" she said.
Soon after, Knight told her boss that she would no longer be delivering packages for Amazon for the time being. Her 22-year-old son, who also worked as an Amazon driver, began experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 after delivering boxes to a local hospital. She claimed she no longer wanted to risk spreading the virus across her community any longer.
Amazon publicly lauds its warehouse workers as "heroes" - but they feel that the company is unnecessarily putting their life at risk
Medical personnel, emergency responders, and grocery store workers are among the essential workers putting their lives at risk to battle the coronavirus outbreak. Amazon considered its e-commerce services among those heroically operating amid these tumultuous times.
"Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis," a Kristen Kish, a spokesperson for Amazon told Business Insider. "We have nearly 500,000 people in the U.S. alone supporting customers and we are taking measures to support each one."
The company pointed to the measures it's taken to prioritize their workers' health and safety, such as eliminating stand-up meetings during shifts, spreading out tables in the break rooms, and requiring employees to disinfect their work stations.
However, warehouse employees executing those services feel that Amazon is not doing enough to protect its workers, or the larger community from being exposed to the coronavirus.
"They call us heroes in the media but treat us like freed slaves that have no other choice to work for the same master for little pay and same crappy conditions," an employee from Arizona told Business Insider.
With hundreds or even thousands of workers packed into a warehouse at a time - rendering social distancing measures "impossible" - and a scarce supply of hand sanitizers and cleaning products, employees called Amazon facilities a "breeding ground" for coronavirus infection.
And, despite having confirmed COVID-19 cases at several warehouses, they claim that management refused to temporarily close down their locations to clean the entire facility despite employee requests.
"I'm really confused on why we're even being asked to work. Amazon doesn't have with the people need," the Houston warehouse worker claimed, adding that she has not processed toilet paper, cleaning supplies, or other "essential items" that the e-commerce giant claimed to be prioritizing.
"Essentials aren't really available in the warehouse," she added.
An Amazon employee who works in vendor returns said her department was continuing to process returns - a job she and her colleagues did not consider critical amid the outbreak. However, she and about 1,100 other employees continue to cram into a building in Lexington, Kentucky to continue this "non-essential service."
"We are not providing any life-sustaining services right now we are simply taking in returns and at this particular time I can't imagine anybody that wants to go process or return right now outside of their home," the employee told Business Insider.
The employee in Pennsylvania claimed that she was not notified as an associate fulfilling customer order that Amazon was "prioritizing actual essential items."
"If they say they changed the policy, they haven't - they're shipping everything as it comes," Dominica Mercuri, a warehouse associate in Pennsylvania, told Business Insider.
As far as she knew, Amazon was "still trying to even keep their two-day promise to our Prime members whenever they can," she said.