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Elizabeth Warren, Democrats Probe 2 Massachusetts Walmarts Closed By Coronavirus

Posted on 2020-05-09

Elizabeth Warren, Democrats Probe 2 Massachusetts Walmarts Closed By Coronavirus

WORCESTER (CBS/CNN) — Senator Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic members of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation are pressing Walmart on its handling of a store in Worcester where 81 workers tested positive for the coronavirus and another in Quincy where an employee died.

“We are writing to express serious concern about your company’s failure to keep Walmart employees in Massachusetts safe amidst the coronavirus,” 11 House and Senate Democrats wrote to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon Thursday in a letter obtained by CNN Business.

Worcester officials ordered the Walmart on Tobias Boland Way to shut down last week after 23 employees tested positive for the virus. All of the store’s employees were later tested and an additional 58 were positive. The store, which tested 391 employees total, has since reopened.

A Walmart in Worcester was closed for cleaning after employees were infected with coronavirus (WBZ-TV)

“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 said in a statement.

The company added, “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. 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.”

The letter seeks to raise pressure on Walmart over its worker safety policies after reports of coronavirus cases among employees at several stores in the state. Walmarts in Avon and Abington were also closed temporarily because of coronavirus cases.

The letter also pointed to a complaint that United for Respect, a workers’ advocacy group, filed with the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration claiming that Walmart is “not regularly informing employees when a co-worker is diagnosed,” not closing stores for cleaning and disinfecting after coronavirus cases have been diagnosed, and “not enforcing social distancing in stores that can have up to 900 customers in them at a time.”

“These outbreaks occurred in the context of multiple worker-reported safety concerns at Walmart stores,” the letter said.

Walmart declined to comment on the details of the United for Respect complaint. The retailer, which is the largest private employer in the United States, has more than 1.5 million workers in this country.

Like other retailers, the company is grappling with how to keep its doors open while keeping workers safe. It has implemented measures such as providing masks to employees, taking workers’ temperatures, limiting the number of customers in stores and adding social distancing markers. But worker advocates have said the moves haven’t been enough to protect employees.

In Quincy, 11 employees tested positive for coronavirus and one of them, 69-year-old Yok Yen Lee died. Walmart closed the store this week after the health department contacted the company.

Yok Yen Lee (Family photo)

Quincy health department commissioner Ruth Jones said in an interview with CNN Business that employees had complained to her office that it “wasn’t a safe place to work.”

“We were getting complaints about the store not using social distancing and crowd control,” Jones said.

The Walmart in Quincy shut down due to coronavirus. (WBZ-TV)

Walmart declined to comment on what Jones told CNN Business.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN’s Nathaniel Meyersohn contributed to this report.)