Last week, Amazon, the online shopping behemoth, emailed local TV newsrooms across the country to pitch a pre-scripted video package touting its new fulfillment center safety protocols. The trillion-dollar company is in damage control mode amid mounting reports alleging that it has endangered its warehouse employees during the pandemic.
“Amazon is giving your viewers for the first time an inside look at it’s [sic] buildings to see how the company has transformed it’s [sic] operations in response to COVID-19,” the company said in its email to various newsrooms, which HuffPost obtained and reviewed.
Its scripted segment — which flaunts how Amazon has reportedly “transformed its operations” to protect its workers — provides no context about the expansive COVID-19 outbreaks inside some facilities, or the company’s recent firing of a dissenting employee, or the eight Amazon warehouse workers who are known to have died from the virus.
At least a dozen news stations — including affiliates of ABC, NBC and CBS — have aired near-verbatim or modified versions of the segment in recent days, HuffPost found. Only one station that did so, ABC’s WTVG in Toledo, Ohio, disclosed the report was “from Amazon.”
Other journalists refused to run the segment outright.
“More than 30 of [Amazon’s] workers have gotten COVID-19 in Kenosha and it refuses to cooperate with the local health department. Yet @amazon still has the gall to send newsrooms this pre-packaged trash and hopes a self-respecting news operation would run it,” tweeted A.J. Bayatpour, a reporter for WKOW 27 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Bayatpour told HuffPost that of all the PR tactics he’d seen in his more than a decade of news experience, he’d never received “a full-on prepackaged news story” before.
“It’s our policy that we would not run something like that,” he said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We need to be able to ask questions ourselves; we can’t just simply take what someone’s giving us and not be able to question it at all. If something’s prepackaged, of course we can’t do that, and for us that’s where the line is.”
Amazon told HuffPost that its video package was not promotional, and claimed that many companies have produced similar videos for news outlets.
“We welcome reporters into our buildings and it’s misleading to suggest otherwise,” said a spokesperson. “This type of video was created to share an inside look into the health and safety measures we’ve rolled out in our buildings and was intended for reporters who for a variety of reasons weren’t able to come tour one of our sites themselves.”
The company sent the segment to newsrooms just days ahead of its annual shareholder meeting, in which investors plan to address concerns about warehouse workers’ wellbeing, as Courier Newsroom reported.
In its scripted video, Amazon notes that it has implemented more than 150 new health and safety measures including thermal screenings, sanitizer and masks for workers, as well as newly installed hand-washing stations, social distancing set-ups and regular facility deep-cleanings. It features glowing soundbites from three Amazon employees, including Stanaleen Greenman, who works in one of the company’s more than 175 warehouses.
“I feel safe coming to work every day,” she says. “The littlest job I do in here could mean the world to everybody else outside.”
The coronavirus outbreak has triggered a surge in Amazon orders, causing its stock to hit an all-time high. This unprecedented demand has also placed extraordinary pressure on its warehouse employees, whose functions are considered to be essential, though the company said it has hired an additional 175,000 associates.
Workers across the U.S. have protested against Amazon’s coronavirus response, accusing their employer of prioritizing its revenue above their safety. The company has repeatedly refused to disclose how many workers have contracted the virus.