By Lorie Hailey
(Editor’s note: This is part 12 in our series about how Kentucky businesses are responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19. See the full report.)
Kentucky is wrapping up its fifth “healthy at home” week to combat spread of COVID-19. That’s five weeks of working from home or working in new, socially distant conditions; of helping instruct school-aged children; and staying home except limited trips to the grocery store or other essential retailers.
Online grocery ordering, curbside pickup and delivery of goods from online retailers have become a mainstay of our socially distant lives. For online retail giant Amazon it brought a significant increase in demand for goods, especially critical supplies and items people purchase locally during normal times.
“As communities around the world move to further increase social distancing, Amazon has a unique role to play providing a critical service for people to get the goods they need for their families without leaving their homes,” said Andre Woodson, an Amazon spokesperson for the Kentucky region.
Unprecedented demand has increased Amazon’s labor needs. In mid-March, Amazon announced plans to increase pay for its teams and hire 100,000 new full- and part-time positions in its fulfillment centers and delivery network across the country. Later, the company decided to add 75,000 more jobs.
Over the past four weeks, it hired more than 1,700 new Kentucky employees, joining 13,000-plus full-timers already in 14 Amazon fulfillment and sortation centers, one customer service center and two Whole Foods Market stores, Woodson said. And the company plans to hire 900 more in the commonwealth.
“The new hires in Kentucky fill a range of roles, including picking, packing and shipping customer orders and delivering packages from delivery stations to meet the needs of the COVID-19 demand surge,” Woodson said. “Many were impacted by layoffs related to COVID-19 and come from a variety of fields and life situations, including restaurant cooks, bartenders and servers, flight attendants, teachers, business owners, personal trainers, valet drivers, rideshare drivers, retirees, part-time workers whose jobs are now on hold, and people who just wanted to help out.”
As demand has surged, so has the need for precautions to keep employees safe from coronavirus. Saying employee safety is its top concern, Amazon has made over 150 process updates, from enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures to piloting new efforts like disinfectant fog in a New York fulfillment center, Amazon said on its COVID-19 blog.
To ensure safety, Amazon provides its employees with protective gear and requires employees to wash their hands often.
“Masks are available to Amazon associates, delivery service partners, Amazon Flex participants, seasonal employees and Whole Foods Market stores employees, and we are requiring everyone to take and use them,” Woodson said.
Any N-95 masks Amazon receives are either donated to healthcare workers on the front lines or made available, at cost, through Amazon Business to healthcare and government organizations, the company said.
Other safety adjustments include: increasing the size of its cleaning teams threefold; eliminating gathering for stand-up meetings during shifts in favor of communicating by signboards and text messages; adjusting break rooms with new social distancing parameters in mind; reducing congestion at timeclocks and staggering shift start times and break times; shifted trainings to reduce gathering in one spot; and adjusting the hiring process to encourage social distancing.
Amazon has begun assembling equipment to build its first lab to process COVID-19 tests and hopes to start testing small numbers of frontline employees soon, the company said on its COVID-19 blog.
“We are committed to protecting our employees through our preventative health measures, enhanced cleaning and sanitation, social distancing enforcement, and broad suite of new benefits, including extended paid leave options for full-time employees, additional $2 per hour from our current rate of $15/hour or more, double time for overtime, and paid time off (PTO) benefits for regular part-time and seasonal employees,” Woodson said.
Woodson shared a bit more about Amazon’s response to COVID-19 for our Making It Work series.
The Lane Report: People all over the world are depending on Amazon to provide essential items, but also fun things to pass the time. How are you meeting the demand?
Andre Woodson: To serve our customers while also helping to ensure the safety of our associates, we’ve changed our logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing and third-party seller processes to prioritize stocking and delivering items that are a higher priority for our customers.
TLR: Amazon is hiring. Which kind of jobs are available and what skills and traits are you looking for?
Woodson: Amazon jobs are geared for people who want to start work quickly, with a broad range of scheduling options. Interested candidates can visit amazon.com/jobsnow to apply. Onboarding includes several COVID-19 accommodations, including virtual new hire orientation sessions, providing training and information through online sessions. The roles start with minimum pay of $17 per hour through the end of April, which is an increase of $2 per hour since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and come with company benefits on day one, for full-time and some part-time positions.
TLR: How are Amazon’s employees stepping up to the challenge of providing essential goods to the world?
Woodson: Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis. We have nearly 500,000 people in the U.S. alone supporting customers and are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable. Amazon is proud to be one of the companies able to fill the essential needs of our communities during this challenging time. And with the social distancing required to fight COVID-19, delivering items directly to someone’s door has never been more important, and our employees are serving as lifelines to tens of millions of people in this crisis.
TLR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Woodson: The world is facing an unprecedented event right now: a combined public health and economic crisis. With much of the population on lockdown in the countries where we operate, Amazon is proud to be one of the companies able to fill the essential needs of our communities during this challenging time. With the social distancing required to fight COVID-19, delivering directly to someone’s door has never been more important. Our employees are serving as lifelines to tens of millions of people in this crisis.
Amazon leader in Kentucky shares experience
Woodson shared this video from Jason Wheeler, the site leader of one of Amazon’s Northern Kentucky fulfillment centers. Jason is in charge of getting millions of Amazon packages delivered to customers across Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati every day, including household staples, sanitizers, baby formula and medical supplies. His team of more than 1,000 employees picks, packs and ships customer orders at Amazon’s facility in Hebron.
Share your story
We want to hear how business leaders across the state have responded to the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the efforts to stop the spread of it. If your business would like to share its story, email Lorie at [email protected].