Union officials are raising concerns that retail giant Amazon is unnecessarily exposing Connecticut residents to COVID-19 -- as well as taking jobs they believe should go to local workers.
An out-of-state company has been hired to do work on construction of a new Amazon distribution center in Windsor. Local unions are concerned that employees from Georgia’s A&D Welding aren’t being tested for COVID-19.
Georgia is among the states listed in Connecticut’s COVID-19 travel advisory -- meaning people coming here from that state are subject to a 14-day quarantine.
“You’re not going to be able to trace them, so you’re going to have over 200 people on this construction site where you’re not going to be able to identify them,” said Joseph Toner, president of the Greater Hartford-New Britain Building and Construction Trades Council.
Toner told Connecticut Public Radio that his union has heard from A&D Welding workers that they aren’t taking COVID-19 tests.
“It looks like it’s going in the wrong direction a little bit now, and there’s an uptick in Connecticut,” Toner said. Amazon is putting the health of Connecticut residents “at risk because of their greed,” he said.
Windsor Town Manager Peter Souza said he’s been assured that the company’s general contractor has certain protocols in place should a worker test positive. As far as the 14-day quarantine is concerned, Souza said, commercial real estate workers are exempt.
Amazon spokesperson Rachael L. Lighty reached out to Connecticut Public Radio to shed light on the company's coronavirus-related protocols.
"The safety of our employees, contractors and partners is our top priority, " Lighty said. "Amazon requires its employees, RC Anderson, our general contractor, and all subcontractors to comply with applicable COVID-19 regulations, including the Executive Order, which allows workers supporting the construction of critical infrastructure to continue work."
But the controversial nature of A&D Welding’s presence in Connecticut goes beyond the coronavirus pandemic. Toner reports that out of the the three companies currently contracted to the job site, none are from Connecticut.
Souza said his town and Amazon share a “good faith” agreement that a percentage of Windsor residents will be hired once the center is operational. He pointed to employment at another Amazon warehouse in the area, near Day Hill Road in Windsor, where 7% or 8% of employees are Windsor residents.
Further stoking the controversy is a revelation that A&D Welding has been cited for a third time by the Connecticut Department of Labor over worker’s compensation issues.
“A&D Welding should leave the state of Connecticut,” Toner said. “If Amazon wanted to be a good partner to the state of Connecticut and show a good-faith effort, the first thing they would do is get involved and say ‘Hey, we made a mistake here, folks. We’re going to ask these people to leave.’”
Connecticut Public Radio was unable to connect with A&D Welding for answers regarding pandemic protocols for workers and a response to the latest stop-work order from the state labor department.
Toner addressed a crowd near the Windsor construction site of the Amazon distribution center, which is reportedly scheduled to be finished at the end of next year. He spoke in front of what local workers see as a symbol of what’s going on amid the Amazon deal: an inflatable corporate “fat cat” with its hand around the throat of a construction worker. Union officials and lawmakers convened the meeting to highlight a tax incentive Amazon received from elected officials in Windsor -- $8.78 million in the form of a property tax abatement and a reduced fee for a building permit.
For State Rep. Robyn Porter (D-Hamden, New Haven), a champion of the “Fight for $15” minimum wage movement in Connecticut, the immediate reality surrounding that deal represents a slap in the face to local workers.
“We have people facing evictions, we have folks going into foreclosures while we have a billion-dollar company that just came to this state and is actually bringing folks from out of state?” Porter asked. “That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
Souza justified the Amazon tax incentive as the cost of doing business -- something the town had to do to beat out other American municipalities vying for the distribution center.
He also said the abatement ends in three years.
This story has been updated to include a report from Amazon regarding in-state workers at the Windsor construction site. It also now includes testimony from an Amazon spokesperson.
Correction: A previous version of this article reported that Joseph Toner had stated that there were no workers from Windsor on the job site. In fact he said that there were no in-state companies working at the site.
A previous version of this story identified Robyn Porter as a state senator. The story has been updated to correctly identify her as a state representative.