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While Costco has become a go-to source for Americans stocking up on the supplies required to weather the COVID-19 pandemic at home, some frustrated employees of the warehouse retailer say it hasn't been aggressive enough in protecting their health.
Roughly 100 staffers and contractors told BuzzFeed News that the multi-billion dollar company had displayed a lack of transparency on COVID-19 cases as well as a disregard for warnings and that it had failed to make necessary adjustments to long-standing policies.
To put this in perspective, however, there are more than 240,000 employees working for the company around the world.
“Working for Costco during this devastating point of time has become a living nightmare,” an unidentified warehouse employee in Los Angeles told the outlet. “They will continue to prioritize the needs of the business over their employees’ well-being, even when we are in a state of emergency. We were never prepared for this.”
Representatives for Costco have not responded to FOX Business' calls and email requests for comment. In fact, a March 21 memo from CEO Craig Jelinek obtained by BuzzFeed suggested the company wouldn't be focusing on press inquiries while navigating what he called a humanitarian crisis.
At least 75 people across the company's corporate offices and warehouses around the nation have tested positive for COVID-19 and two have died, according to interviews and internal memos obtained by BuzzFeed.
Regina Lee, a Costco Travel agent, was the first known Costco employee in the country to die of COVID-19. She collapsed at her Everett, Washington, home the night of Sunday, March 15, after picking up an extra shift the day before, during which she coughed so much that she struggled to catch her breath.
Lee passed away on March 16, less than two weeks after Jelinek reportedly emailed workers at the company's campus in Issaquah, Washington, that allowing them to work at home would be unfair to colleagues at its stores who couldn't do so.
Her brother has criticized the company's behavior, and employees blame the retailer for not acting more quickly to safeguard them when panicked shoppers flooded its stores as governments began imposing shelter-in-place orders to curb the spread of the virus.
One employee told BuzzFeed that on March 13 -- two days after California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged residents to avoid large crowds -- a store in the state checked in 4,015 Costco cardholders within a span of two hours. Overall, 10,371 members came in that day -- a figure that doesn't account for multiple people entering on one card.
“We were having 3,500 people allowed to come in at a time and no masks have been required,” a supervisor at the same location told BuzzFeed. “Everyone is sharing gloves. We’re bringing our own, and if we have enough, we give them to each other.”
Furthermore, employees said, managers failed to inform them of the confirmed cases among coworkers and were too slow in implementing additional sanitizing procedures. The company had sufficient time to prepare for the chaos, they said, after seeing the impact at stores in Asia, the continent where the virus was first recognized.
“Costco has implemented some good practices now, but it just took too long,” a manager in Michigan told the outlet. “They were reactionary the entire time instead of taking the opportunity to be a leader in the industry.”
But on March 30, Jelinek told employees in a companywide video that as traffic in stores began to surge, Costco focused on alterations to keep customers and workers safe.
“While we should be very proud of serving our communities, at the same time, I know Costco employees have personal concerns and anxiety as well,” Jelinek said. “So I want to be clear about this: The business of Costco is important, and our communities and coworkers depend upon us. But there’s no higher priority than your own well-being and the well-being of your families.”
After Lee's death, the company began allowing corporate employees to work from home.
It also offered a boost in pay for all U.S. employees, along with face masks, gloves and plexiglass shields on registers, and began limiting how many customers could come into a store at one time.
In fact, a Costco employee from Ohio told FOX Business that within a few short weeks, the retailer has implemented numerous measures to protect staff and guests while noting that the complaints are coming from a small portion of the company's overall workforce.
"Costco has been trying to juggle taking care of customers and employees since this whole thing started," the employee said.