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Amazon warehouse worker tests positive for COVID-19 after demonstrating for safer conditions

Shantrece Johnson first noticed symptoms April 25 when she started coughing and had to use her inhaler more often than usual. Less than a week later, she tested positive for the coronavirus.

Shantrece Johnson works at the Amazon warehouse in Little Village.
Shantrece Johnson works at the Amazon warehouse in Little Village.

When Amazon employee Shantrece Johnson demonstrated with co-workers outside the company’s Little Village warehouse in March, it was to protest unsafe working conditions as the coronavirus pandemic was climbing toward its peak. About a month later, she’s home sick with COVID-19 and worried her teenage son also might have it.

Johnson, an asthmatic, first noticed symptoms April 25 when she started coughing at work and had to use her inhaler more often than usual. Two days later, she left about 30 minutes before her shift ended and went to a drive-thru test site. After three more days of coughing and shortness of breath, she received her positive test results.

The 47-year-old participated in three of four “safety strikes” that Amazon workers at DCH1, the warehouse at 2801 S. Western Ave., staged in response to what they considered lackluster measures being taken to protect workers. The workers’ group, DCH1 Amazonians United, demanded a shutdown of the warehouse for a full cleaning and coverage of medical bills for employees and their families should they contract COVID-19, among other requests.

“I felt they weren’t doing enough to make us feel safe and protect us from catching the coronavirus, because I didn’t want to bring this home to my son,” Johnson, who has been with the company since January 2017, said between coughing fits.

Johnson was written up for violating the company’s clock-in policy during one of the demonstrations, though she attended on her off day. She since has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

“We are supporting the individual who is recovering,” Amazon spokesperson Shone Jemmott said. “We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

Jemmott declined to comment on disciplinary action against Johnson or the pending labor practice charge.

Between March 28 and April 27, Amazon notified employees of the warehouse of six positive cases, several workers told the Sun-Times.

The company has added more cleaning staff and started providing workers with PPE since the demonstrations in March and April, in addition to checking the temperature of each person who enters the warehouse, a spokesperson said in April.

Johnson will receive two weeks of “quarantine pay” from Amazon, she said, as outlined by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In the time since she has been home, her 16-year-old son also started showing symptoms. She said doctors told him to assume he also has the virus.

Vanessa Carrillo Ruiz, who works closely with Johnson, was not notified about Johnson’s positive test result until a co-worker told her as she was heading in for her shift Thursday night. She decided to return home and self-isolate for two weeks.

“It’s pretty scary. I’m very worried for Shantrece and her son,” Carrillo Ruiz said. “It’s frustrating because Shantrece has been fighting with us for the facility to be shut down and cleaned up so that this wouldn’t happen, and look what’s happening right now.”