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Family Of Amazon Worker Who Died Of Coronavirus Questioning Company Hiring Spree

 May 28, 2020 at 10:15 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Just over three months after first Corona virus death was reported in the United States. The national death toll from the virus has now reached 100,000. One of those victims was a 63 year old Los Angeles County man who went to work in an Amazon warehouse in March. Harry Sentosa, his story is profiled in an LA times report on the risks faced by workers at those warehouses. His family has left, wondering why someone's nonessential online purchase should be worth a life. Joining me is LA times reporter Sam Dean and Sam, welcome to the program. Yeah, thanks for having me. Harry Sentosa got his job during a surge of hiring Amazon initiated in the early days of the coveage shutdown. Can you tell us about that? Speaker 2: 00:46 Yeah, well, as people started staying at home more and a lot of brick and mortar retail shut down, Amazon really staffed up. I mean, they're one of the only companies hiring best because the order volume has gone up so much during the lockdown. So they, they first announced a wave of a hundred thousand new hires across the country and then, uh, another wave of 75,000 in April. Speaker 1: 01:07 Now at age 63. Why did mr Santoso want to get a job at the Amazon warehouse? Speaker 2: 01:14 Yeah. So mr Santoso had actually been working at Amazon on and off for a couple of years. He was, uh, you know, had worked in warehouses this whole life after coming in the seventies from Indonesia. And, uh, this was kind of a final job before retirement. He didn't want to touch his savings. Uh, he didn't want to touch his 401k and so he wanted to just earn some cash, uh, before he kind of had to hang up his spurs. And so he would go in, uh, just to earn extra money. And he had been trying to get a full time position at Amazon for a few years actually, but kept getting hired as a seasonal worker and then laid off. And he was actually laid off, uh, less than a month before. He was called back in at the end of March, uh, which is around the same time that he first, uh, contracted the virus. Speaker 1: 01:58 So after his rehire in March, how long was he working there before he got sick? Speaker 2: 02:03 So, yeah, I mean we went in on March 29th, which was a Sunday, and then by Thursday you was feeling a little bit sick. Uh, but he had just been kind of waiting to get called back to work for a month. So when he, he finished his days off on the following Sunday, he went back into work for just a couple days until her to feel really too sick and thought that he might have the virus and so decided to stay home on that next Wednesday. So he worked for about, uh, nine days total before deciding to stay home. Speaker 1: 02:30 And the virus really devastated him very quickly. Did even make it to the hospital as his condition worsened? Speaker 2: 02:37 No, I mean, he, he was sick at home and his wife at that point had also gotten sick, uh, likely passed on from him, although it's impossible to really know for sure. Uh, and he, about four days after his last day at Amazon, both his wife and his son were trying to get them to the car to go to the hospital and Pomona, uh, and he collapsed in the driveway. Uh, and then an ambulance came. They tried to raise a pulse and they did succeed for a little bit on the way to the hospital. But by the time he arrived, he was gone. Speaker 1: 03:07 And you paid, uh, um, a terrible portrait of one of his sons saying goodbye and, uh, his social distance because he couldn't even go near to his father in the hospital. His father's body. Speaker 2: 03:19 Yeah. And this is a tragedy that I think a lot of people are facing regardless of whether their family members are dying from the or not. But son Evan, who's, who's only 20 years old, he was back at his apartment in Westwood on the West side of Los Angeles, near UCLA where he's a student and he got a call from his mom that his father had fallen unconscious and he had to borrow a car from a friend because his dad was actually using his car to get to and from work, um, and kind of race across town, uh, over to Pomona to try and catch his dad before he got sicker. Um, but he, he didn't make it. And so when he arrived the, uh, after some kind of negotiation with the hospital, he was allowed into the ice. You just 10 minutes to kind of say goodbye to his father's body. Um, but yeah, it's, uh, it was a pretty tough time. Speaker 1: 04:05 Now there's some controversy about how Amazon reacted to news of Mr. Santos death. Were they aware he died of the Corona virus? Speaker 2: 04:13 Yeah, I mean the timing is a little complicated. The, uh, his wife had been diagnosed with a virus a few days after she got sick at her work. And so their family doctor told them to assume that, uh, Mr. Santos, the virus and then when he died, uh, take it, took a couple of days for that to test the body and get the results and have them released to the family. Um, and during that time, uh, the company did call the 20 year old son multiple times to confirm that his father had died. And in every situation, in every call, Evan told them that it was linked to Corona virus, uh, that, you know, it was running in his family at the moment. His mother was getting sicker at the time, right. Uh, for his past. Um, and then when he got the results, he tried to contact Amazon multiple times to let them know, but, uh, did not hear back. Speaker 2: 05:06 And then, you know, and now there's a workers' compensation claim filed with the state. That list is cause of death is coronavirus. Uh, but Amazon is claiming that they never received official notice, uh, that it was covert related. And so have not informed his coworkers of that fact, although they did inform, uh, people who worked with him, the facility that he had died and they say, raise the possibility that it could be coronavirus related, but didn't go through their normal protocol of sending a mass text out to everyone, which they've done for the more than a thousand coronavirus cases that have been found at their facilities across the country. Speaker 1: 05:38 What measures has Amazon put into place to keep its employees safe? Speaker 2: 05:42 Yeah, Amazon has changed a lot in the last two months since the DEMEC first began. Uh, they've started deep cleaning their facilities, uh, often with the kind of disinfected fog that you see in airplanes, uh, tried to increase social distancing by canceling meetings that they would normally have before each shift. Staggering some shifts, staggering break time so that the break rooms aren't quite as crowded. And they had instituted policies of unpaid time off so that anyone who felt concerned about their health could just decide not to come into work and not lose their job. That policy is, uh, ended. So the unpaid time off is no longer available. And, um, but people do still get a quarantine paid leave if they can prove that they do have the virus or if they can prove that they've come into contact with someone who does. Uh, so yeah, I mean the company has changed a lot of its processes, but they've also hired, you know, a state of goal of 175,000 people at the same time and the number of cases at facilities both in Southern California and uh, especially at a couple of hotspots on the East coast, New York, Pennsylvania just keeps going up. Speaker 1: 06:50 Now apparently Amazon warehouses outside the U S are reacting swiftly to reports of workers getting sick in their facilities. And that's a little different response than in the U S tell us about that. Speaker 2: 07:02 In China and India, regardless of the company involved, uh, if a warehouse has been employee test positive for a case, it's likely that they'll be shut down by the government just to try to avoid the spread of the virus. And France in particular, has had a somewhat antagonistic relationship with Amazon warehouses during the virus there where they essentially required Amazon who face serious fines if they didn't restrict our activities to only shipping essential goods. Uh, Amazon said that that was sustainable, that they needed to ship whatever goods were ordered by people and that they couldn't tell the difference between essential and non essential goods functionally, uh, in such a way to keep their doors open. So they just shut down entirely in France, uh, for a few weeks while paying their workers full salaries. And now the government, uh, has reached a deal with Amazon where they will reopen their warehouses at 30% capacity. Um, kind of like what California is recommending that people do at restaurants, you know, reduced capacity to increase social distancing. And now Amazon is planning to reopen under those conditions pretty soon. Uh, but in the U S despite Amazon's attempts to increase social distancing among its workers, they're still having as many people as normal come into the factories and the warehouses, uh, to get these orders out in time. So, you know, a lot of workers that I've spoken to said it's called the actually socially existence while getting your job done, Speaker 1: 08:21 you contacted Amazon for your story. What was the company's response to claims? It's not doing enough to inform and protect its workers, Speaker 2: 08:29 ensure that the company says it is doing enough. Uh, it says that it informs all of its workers when there is a positive case of coronavirus at one of its facilities via text. Uh, and that, you know, the measures that it's put in place for sanitation and safety or are sufficient. I mean, that's, that's their response. And just to go into some detail on their response for how they inform people too. They do texts. Everyone at the facility, uh, were informed them somehow that has been a positive case. That's when that's confirmed. But, uh, they, they refuse to actually share numbers with the public for numbers for their entire operation across the country. It's just as kind of piecemeal. When there's a new case, a message goes out, uh, and in certain facilities where the number of cases has grown, uh, into the double digits, there's been reporting by both me and the New York times that they just stopped counting us. They just say many more cases have been reported. And a little bit of that Speaker 1: 09:23 now as big as Amazon is, your story gets to an even larger issue of the safety of essential workers as the covert 19 death toll reaches a hundred thousand. At the start of the shutdown, the idea was that Amazon would provide deliveries of essential items, but soon just about anything we wanted, I mean to pass the time was available for delivery. So what questions has that left Henry Sentosa his family with as they continue to mourn his passing? Speaker 2: 09:53 Yeah, I mean his son asked directly, uh, why companies are hiring if they're shipping out non-essential goods while the pandemic is still raging, uh, there's no testing capacity at scale right now. We certainly don't have a vaccine. So there's not really, uh, you know, as a lot of experts have said recently in the LA times as well, a kind of public health rationale for allowing people to return to work, uh, because it will just likely increase the spread of cases. Um, and that's, I mean, that's the question that his son kept asking just why is someone's life worth less than some person's board game or, you know, another non essential item that they might need the case in the meatpacking facilities that have become coronavirus hotspots is a little different because, you know, one could argue that the food supply is actually essential for the health of everyone. Uh, and so, you know, maybe workers do need to be there even if it is presenting some risks to their health, although I'm sure that risk could be mitigated more than it is now. Um, but for non essential items, it's really an open question why, uh, it's worth it to potentially put people at risk of getting sick just to sell people, you know, toys, board games, uh, serve people cocktails. Speaker 1: 11:08 I've been speaking with LA times reporter Sam Dean. Thank you very much. Speaker 2: 11:12 Thank you.

Harry Sentoso, 63, died after going to work in an Irvine Amazon warehouse in March. His story is profiled in a Los Angeles Times report on the risks faced by workers at those warehouses. His family is asking why Amazon hired additional workers to help with non-essential online purchases, putting those workers' lives at risk.
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