Amazon sees first warehouse worker death from COVID-19 disease as calls for safer working conditions mount

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Amazon sees first warehouse worker death from COVID-19 disease as calls for safer working conditions mount

Amazon warehouse, New Jersey

Sarah Jacobs

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  • Gerard Tuzara, an operations manager at Amazon's Hawthorne facility, died of the coronavirus disease on March 31, Business Insider has learned.
  • It's the first known case of death for an Amazon employee from the coronavirus disease.
  • Tuzara's death comes at a time when Amazon is facing growing criticism for its working conditions amid COVID-19.
  • At least 74 Amazon facilities are reported to have been infected by the disease.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

An Amazon warehouse employee in Southern California died from the coronavirus disease, fueling concerns over the company's safety protections for warehouse and delivery workers.

Gerard Tuzara, an operations manager at Amazon's Hawthorne facility, died of the virus on March 31, Business Insider has learned.

Tuzara is the first known case of death from the coronavirus disease among Amazon employees. Amazon's spokesperson confirmed his death in an email to Business Insider.

"We are saddened by the passing of a member of our management team in Hawthorne, California. His family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting his fellow colleagues," the spokesperson said.

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It's unclear where Tuzara first contracted the disease. His last day at work was March 6, as he went on a vacation to Mexico until March 20. Shortly upon returning to the US, Tuzara started experiencing flu-like symptoms on March 26 and was subsequently hospitalized, Amazon's spokesperson said. Amazon has been in contact with Tuzara's family every day since late March, and all site employees were made aware of his passing on March 31, the spokesperson said.

Nonetheless, Tuzara's death could further ignite calls for Amazon to build safer working conditions for its warehouse and delivery workers. Groups of employees have expressed concerns over the company's weak safety measures over the past month, staging employee walkouts across several facilities.

There have been reports of at least 74 Amazon facilities with an infected employee, according to the Washington Post. The Hawthorne facility, called DLA8, is one of the six warehouses in Southern California to have been infected by the disease, according to an LA Times report earlier this month. Amazon's spokesperson declined to comment on the exact number of employees affected by the disease.

In response, Amazon has pledged to add some new safety measures, like providing face masks and regular temperature checks for all of its warehouse employees. It's also increased the hourly pay throughout April, while offering paid time off to those diagnosed with the disease. Amazon is hiring an additional 75,000 new warehouse employees, after having hired 100,000 new workers over the past month.

Still, Amazon has sparked controversy over the way it handled employee calls for better working conditions. Last month, it fired Chris Smalls, the warehouse worker who organized the walkout at its Staten Island facility. On Monday, it fired three more office workers who had been critical of Amazon's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The company said the firings were not retaliatory.

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Lawmakers across the country have been critical of Amazon's way of handling workers' protests. Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted on Tuesday urging Amazon to provide a safer workplace.

"Instead of firing employees who want justice, maybe Jeff Bezos-the richest man in the world-can focus on providing his workers with paid sick leave, a safe workplace, and a livable planet," Sanders wrote.

Some of Tuzara's friends have left an emotional message in a letter mourning his death that has been circulating Amazon warehouses lately.

"Gerry was an Air Force officer, a loving husband, son and uncle," the letter said. "He will be greatly missed."

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