Amazon workers express concerns over safety measures

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HAZLE TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Amazon says it is implementing strict social distancing and safety measures in its local distribution center in Hazle Township.

For the first time since the COVID-19 shutdown, Eyewitness News was allowed inside.

General Manager Stan Weitoish says the facility has been reconfigured, including areas of the production floor that have been turned into break areas to give people more space, and the facility is constantly being cleaned.

“Visual cues on the floor, the expanded break rooms the masks. The thermal screening. The additional sanitizer and handwashing stations in all the areas,” Weitoish explained.

An Eyewitness News crew was also introduced to employees on the tour like Esperanc Magia, who had good things to say about the safety measures in place.

“When it was starting I felt a little scared,” Magia said. “But here I feel really secure because the company has been taking a lot of care.”

However, Andrea Houtsch, another Amazon employee, who went on the record with Eyewitness News after the tour, says we didn’t see everything.

“One of our area managers came over and began explaining that we were basically being staged with extra space between us so that the news camera crews would be able to see how we were working and the conditions that we were working in,” Houtsch said.

Houtsch says she was working when Eyewitness News was touring the facility and claims it was set up. She says she was told to stand farther away from her co-worker Ivana while working.

“They didn’t want the watchers, the news watchers, to get the impression that we were working on top of each other,” Houtsch said. “But the point I made was that we do work on top of each other.”

Eyewitness News asked Amazon about those claims and were told the tour was not staged.

A spokesperson for the company says employees at the facility are frequently moved to different work areas based on job assignments and while there is an official route for the tour, those are for safety reasons to protect visitors.

The company also sent the following statement about Houtsch’s claims:

“These claims are simply not true. Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our employees and we are doing everything we can to keep them as safe as possible. Employee workstations are naturally spaced more than six feet apart, given the nature of the work. We have quickly implemented more than 150 process changes across our sites, to further support enhanced cleaning, social distancing and increased wage and leave options. We take this so seriously that temperature checks, masks and social distancing are mandatory for all employees. We opened our doors today to give the local community a behind-the-scenes look at the safety measures and operations that occur each day at this site and we will continue to look for opportunities to do so.”

Yet another employee who didn’t want to be named for fear of retaliation says those safety measures aren’t always being followed.

“I mean I see they’re close. They’re not six feet away. I know that when you walk by somebody you know sometimes you don’t get six feet because there are so many people in that building at one time. You know what I’m saying? But I see a lot of them a lot of the time standing close, talking. I see managers standing next to each other, close, talking,” the employee said.

Amazon denies that as well, saying it’s not only added more than 150 changes to protect worker safety but also offered increased wage and leave options.

Something that workers on the tour told us they appreciated.

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