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Amazon Tables Delivery Venture While Taking Heat from Lawmakers

While Amazon appears to be coming out on top of the coronavirus crisis, behind-the-scenes shuffles indicate that some of the company’s efforts at expansion will be tabled for the foreseeable future.

The company has decided to stop delivering non-Amazon packages via its own logistics service, which competes directly with FedEx and UPS, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The pause on the program, which was available in just a few cities, will begin in June, Amazon told shippers in a communication obtained by the news outlet.

Rather than delivering packages from Amazon warehouses, the program allows businesses to ship their goods using Amazon’s fleet of delivery trucks. The online giant had sought to entice those shippers with promises to eliminate the fees and surcharges leveraged by other providers.

Now, Amazon is suspending the service so that it can focus all its capacity on serving its own customers’ orders, which have skyrocketed in recent weeks.

“We understand this is a change to your business, and we did not take this decision lightly,” the company said in a missive to shipping clients reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “We will work with you over the next several weeks so there is as little disruption to your business as possible.”

Amazon’s fleet of 30,000 vehicles, 20,000 trailers and dozens of aircraft supplements the significant home deliveries made by UPS and the U.S. Postal Service.

The company ended a contentious relationship with FedEx last year, citing the company’s sub-par record for on-time delivery.

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While Amazon has largely been lauded as an operational force to be reckoned with, recent weeks have revealed cracks in the company’s processes that could become deep fissures over time.

The highly publicized firing of whistleblower Chris Smalls, a warehouse worker at the company’s JFK8 facility in Staten Island who raised health and safety concerns last month, drew criticism and calls for investigation from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Federal legislators have also joined the fray. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on Wednesday pressed Amazon on the treatment of its distribution center staff, repeating a call for the company to temporarily shut down any facilities where a worker has tested positive for COVID-19.

The letter to Amazon mastermind Jeff Bezos, which follows up on a similar effort led by Sen. Booker in March, calls for the founder and CEO to reveal details about the employee’s firing.

“We write to express our continued concern about working conditions at Amazon as well as recent actions Amazon has taken, including the recent firing of an Amazon warehouse employee who was involved in organizing their coworkers for stronger workplace protections at the facility in Staten Island, NY,” the lawmakers wrote.

“The right to organize is a bedrock of our economy, responsible for many of the greatest advances achieved by workers over generations,” they added.

The senators pressed for answers from Bezos about the details of Amazon’s health and sanitation measures at its Staten Island facility, asking, “When did the fired employee come into contact with the diagnosed employee?” and “When did Amazon ask them to self-quarantine?” More broadly, they sought to understand the company’s future criteria for deciding whether to shut down facilities for cleaning when more workers test positive for the coronavirus.

The lawmakers also asked whether the tech giant would assure the public, as well as its employees, that workers can freely and publicly address workplace concerns without fear of retribution.

“Amazon has recently said ‘[w]hen anyone on our team at any level purposely puts the health of others at risk, we will take swift, decisive action without concern about external reaction.’ We hope this standard will be enforced equally across the organization and not just applied to the lowest-ranking workers who power it,” the senators wrote.

“Any failure of Amazon to keep its workers safe does not just put their employees at risk, it puts the entire country at risk,” they added.

In closing, the legislators asked that Bezos and Amazon respond to their concerns and questions “no later than April 14.”