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Working at Amazon: The Costs of Extreme Efficiency

Posted By Arnold & Itkin LLP || 28-Nov-2018

Last week, two Amazon employees were killed after an Amazon Fulfillment Center collapsed on them. Andrew Lindsay and Israel Agorteia were identified as the only victims in the Baltimore warehouse. The building likely collapsed due to strain caused by severe tornado weather that hit the area. Reports indicate that the weather caused enough damage to displace as many as 64 residents.

Both men were third-party contractors that did not work directly for Amazon. However, the tragedy comes after a controversial year for the monolith of online retail. Reports of poor working conditions have stoked criticism of the company from worker advocates. Employees in warehouses reported hazardous conditions, strict deadlines, and overbearing management. In October, Amazon raised the minimum wage for its workers in response to mounting criticism.

These are the reasons that Amazon has garnered a bad reputation with some workers and activists.

National COSH’s “Dirty Dozen”

In April, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health Administrations released its “Dirty Dozen.” According to the organization, the list features “companies that put workers and communities at risk due to unsafe practices.” The organization states that it picks companies for this list after companies receive warnings and fail to correct them.

Criteria to be included on the “Dirty Dozen” include:

  • Exposure to unnecessary and preventable risks
  • Repeat citations by relevant state and federal authorities
  • Activity by workers to improve their health and safety conditions

The report cited a string of deaths since 2013 as the reason that it included Amazon on the list. At the time of the report, seven people had lost their lives in Amazon warehouses. The National COSH stated that “Amazon workers suffer injuries—and sometimes lose their lives—in a work environment with a relentless demand to fill orders and close monitoring of employee actions.”

Amazon responded to the allegations from National COSH by asserting that it takes accidents seriously and it implements new safety standards on a regular basis. However, allegations regarding conditions at Amazon facilities would continue later in the year.

Working Conditions

In September, Newsweek compiled reports from Amazon workers around the world. The news outlet found that employees were not given holidays off and discovered that some deadlines were so strict that workers resorted to urinating into bottles or trash cans to avoid bathroom breaks. Other reports indicated a points-based attendance tracking program.

One Guardian investigation found that Amazon employees struggle to get compensation after being injured by unsafe work conditions. The piece profiled one employee who claimed she was forced into homelessness after the company failed to provide adequate medical care after a workplace injury.

Another employee claimed he was forced to work a full-duty job after a company doctor told him to work light duty to protect his knees. The worker claims that Amazon requested he sign a form stating his injuries occurred before working at Amazon before returning to light-duty work. He is currently pursuing a claim against the company in court.

Amazon’s Side of the Story

Amazon responded to Guardian’s report with a statement reaffirming the large company’s commitment to safety. Spokesperson Melanie Etches told the paper that Amazon is “proud” of its safety record and reiterated the company’s commitment to safety. She highlighted the company’s Safety Leadership Program as an example of Amazon’s proactive approach to employee safety. With over 500,000 employees, the company’s commitment to safety is almost guaranteed to be tested in the future.

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