The 11 members of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation are raising their concerns with Walmart over how the retail chain has handled coronavirus outbreaks among its employees after dozens tested positive for coronavirus across locations around the state, CNN reports.
“We are writing to express serious concern about your company’s failure to keep Walmart employees in Massachusetts safe amidst the coronavirus,” the Democrats wrote to company CEO Doug McMillon Thursday.
Last month, Worcester officials ordered a Walmart Supercenter closed after 23 employees tested positive for the virus. Additional testing yielded positive results for another 58 employees, bringing the total to 81 workers who had contracted COVID-19.
The store reopened Tuesday after Walmart met certain benchmarks set by local officials, including widespread testing and a deep cleaning conducted by a third-party vendor, among other requirements.
“Periodic, unannounced inspections should be expected,” Worcester officials said. “Walmart must also report any new or suspected cases of COVID-19 to (the Worcester Division of Public Health) immediately.”
However, as of Saturday, Walmart locations in Avon, Quincy, and Abington had all closed their doors, WBUR reports.
According to the news radio station, 85 of approximately 212 Quincy Walmart workers were tested and among those who were, 27 tested positive for the virus, the city’s Board of Health said. One employee died due to virus complications.
The Avon and Abington stores both closed on May 6, according to WBUR. The Abington location had closed once before.
“Since the temporary closure of our Abington store we have been made aware of at least one new case of COVID-19,” Eddie Bostic, regional general manager of Walmart, said in a statement shared by the Avon Board of Health. “In Avon, we’ve seen the impact in the local community, which has also been felt in our store. The nature of this virus makes it nearly impossible to track the source of anyone’s infection, so we are planning to work with health officials to review our measures, and determine additional steps, such as COVID-19 testing for associates and others who work at the store.”
In their letter, the Massachusetts senators and representatives referenced a complaint filed with the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration by the workers’ advocacy group United for Respect, alleging that Walmart is “not regularly informing employees when a co-worker is diagnosed,” according to CNN.
The complaint also states that stores are not closed for cleaning after coronavirus cases are detected and that the company is “not enforcing social distancing in stores that can have up to 900 customers in them at a time,” the news network reports.
“These outbreaks occurred in the context of multiple worker-reported safety concerns at Walmart stores,” the letter from Massachusetts lawmakers said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in a tweet Saturday, wrote that the company has “a responsibility to keep its workers safe from COVID-19, and it failed in Massachusetts.”
“The entire MA delegation & I want Walmart to explain what changes the retail giant will be making to prevent more store outbreaks across the commonwealth,” Warren wrote.
Walmart employees, like so many workers, risk their health every day for a paycheck. Walmart needs to treat them with the respect they deserve, but they are failing in Massachusetts. We demand to know what Walmart is doing to keep workers safe and stop the spread of COVID-19. https://t.co/c9A6pW5l1h
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) May 9, 2020
In response to the OSHA complaint, Walmart told CNN it would not comment on specifics but said its practices are consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and OSHA COVID-19 preparedness guidance.
“Massachusetts is suffering from a high rate of coronavirus cases, and several of our stores located in some of the state’s hot spots have also been hit hard by the pandemic,” Walmart told the news network in a statement.
“It may be impossible to track the source of anyone’s infection, especially in some of these communities that have felt the devastating impact of the virus,” the company added. “That’s why we are working in partnership with local health officials and are taking aggressive steps to help ensure the safety of our associates and customers.”