Amazon faces few consequences on working conditions despite complaints

SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon on Monday is about to publicly defend its security report at a listening to in Washington state following greater than a decade of complaints about office situations throughout the nation.

State labor regulators allege working at Amazon exposes workers to elevated danger of ergonomic damage and musculoskeletal problems as they awkwardly bend and twist to maneuver items via the warehouse. The corporate has repeatedly denied the allegations and mentioned its damage fee is enhancing. Citing a scarcity of operational change, Washington state has twice charged the corporate with willfully violating security requirements, citations Amazon has appealed and can make its case in opposition to within the proceedings that resume on Monday.

The Washington listening to, which started earlier this summer time, comes at a second of unprecedented scrutiny into Amazon’s well being and security report. Officers with the Occupational Security and Well being Administration opened a nationwide investigation into ergonomic accidents final yr and have since issued greater than greater than a dozen citations. That effort was introduced in coordination with the Legal professional Common for the Southern District of New York, which is wanting into allegations that Amazon systematically conceals office accidents.

Moreover, a Senate committee chaired by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is investigating the speed at which Amazon employees are injured, in addition to worker turnover and productiveness quotas.

Mixed, these efforts have introduced extra consideration to the internal workings of Amazon’s warehouse operations. Some labor advocates — who’ve been centered on unionizing the e-commerce large for a number of years — are hopeful these investigations will drive the corporate to vary, enhancing working situations by lowering the demanding tempo and including extra instruments to assist.

However although the present enforcement makes an attempt comply with years of considerations about working situations in Amazon’s warehouses, state and federal officers proceed to battle to drive any substantial adjustments to the best way the corporate runs its tons of of warehouses.

“This record of dangerous working conditions has been going on for a long time and nothing seems imminent in terms of change,” mentioned Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Native Self-Reliance. “And OSHA doesn’t seem to have sufficient tools to do anything about it.”

Amazon denies allegations that it knowingly places employees in hurt’s approach and that it systematically conceals accidents. Spokesperson Maureen Lynch Vogel mentioned the “vast majority” of security inspections at Amazon don’t lead to citations.

“In the minority of cases when there is a citation, we have a right — as does any company — to challenge it and present our case,” she mentioned. “And if we do appeal a citation, it’s because we disagree with the allegations or the recommended changes aren’t appropriate for our type of operations. While we know that there will always be more to do, we’re committed to continuous improvement and the data proves we’re making significant progress on safety.”

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Put up. Interim CEO Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.

The renewed focus by federal and state regulators on security at Amazon has performed out amid a very making an attempt yr for Amazon. Lengthy identified for explosive development and remodeling the best way the world retailers, up to now yr the corporate laid off greater than 27,000 folks, shuttered departments and killed off progressive however unprofitable experiments. A number of executives departed, and morale points have surfaced for some staffers as the corporate tries to insist they return to the workplace — a battle which got here to a head with an worker walkout within the spring.

Office security at Amazon first gained nationwide consideration in 2011, when a Pennsylvania newspaper reported that warehouse employees had been passing out on account of excessive warmth — prompting ambulances to attend on the prepared outdoors the constructing. Within the years that adopted, extra complaints, accidents, inspections and citations accrued at Amazon warehouses across the nation.

In 2021, The Put up reported that Amazon employees had been severely injured at greater charges than at different workplaces in the identical trade. Amazon disputed these figures, and mentioned its critical damage charges have since declined.

Washington state began constructing its case in opposition to Amazon that very same yr, when it inspected a warehouse in Dupont and cited the corporate for ergonomic security violations. A subsequent investigation at a warehouse in Kent discovered the tempo of labor was placing employees susceptible to damage. The state alleged Amazon didn’t resolve the problems on the warehouse, and in 2022 introduced fees of “willful” violations in opposition to the corporate, levying a nice of $60,000. It fined Amazon one other $85,000 final month for extra willful violations at a warehouse close to Spokane.

Whereas a willful violation is likely one of the greater penalties well being and security regulators can levy, it’s a small sum for Amazon, which reported $6.7 billion in second quarter income.

Amazon appealed the 2022 quotation to the Washington Board of Industrial Insurance coverage Appeals. Inspectors with the Washington State Division of Labor & Industries (L&I) alleged that along with placing employees susceptible to damage, Amazon additionally prevented inspectors from coming on-site, and tried to stop the company from recording office exercise with cameras and digital screens, in keeping with information studies.

Vogel, the Amazon spokesperson, denied these allegations, saying, “When we present our case later this month, we look forward to showing that L&I’s allegations are inaccurate and don’t reflect the reality of safety at Amazon. The truth is that we’re always investing in safety and our efforts are working.”

Even when Washington wins, the case gained’t have an effect on different states, mentioned Jordan Barab, the previous deputy assistant secretary of labor at OSHA beneath President Barack Obama. It might, nevertheless, function a information.

“It’s useful to know in terms of setting precedence for what other states could do, if they were so willing to do that,” he mentioned.

There are 21 states with unbiased well being and security administrations that would comply with in Washington’s footsteps in pursuit of Amazon, in keeping with Barab. Three of these states — California, New York and Washington — have handed warehouse employee security legal guidelines aimed partly at regulating its warehouses.

Within the yr because it introduced its nationwide investigation into Amazon, OSHA has fined the corporate $270,081 for security violations in additional than half a dozen workplaces, in keeping with the company, which didn’t instantly reply to a request for touch upon this story. The Southern District of New York’s legal professional basic’s workplace grew to become concerned due to allegations that Amazon was mendacity about damage and sickness statistics, Barab added.

The legal professional basic’s workplace confirmed its investigation of Amazon is ongoing however declined to supply further particulars. Relating to the Justice Division’s, Vogel mentioned “OSHA’s recordkeeping citations confirm that there is no systemic under-reporting of injuries.”

Vogel mentioned Amazon takes “the safety and health of our employees very seriously” and is interesting OSHA’s citations. “The government’s allegations don’t reflect the reality of safety at our sites,” she mentioned.

OSHA is a comparatively small group — the company has repeatedly mentioned it will take 160 years to examine each office in the USA. The company lately reached a $1.35 million settlement with Greenback Tree and Household Greenback over blocked exit routes. The settlement adopted a coordinated investigation that went on for six years and led to greater than $15 million in fines.

Amazon is a much bigger firm and OSHA’s investigation into accidents is extra sophisticated, mentioned Debbie Berkowitz, former OSHA chief of workers beneath Obama.

“OSHA is a tiny agency, and these are huge warehouses,” Berkowitz mentioned. “The inspections are very labor intensive” and outcomes might take years.

OSHA and the Washington State Division of Labor and Industries didn’t reply to requests for touch upon this story.

Beneath President Biden, labor regulators have had the assist to pursue firms like Amazon extra aggressively, mentioned Georgetown labor historian Joe McCartin, a change from beneath the Trump administration.

In the meantime, Sanders’s committee is investigating excessive turnover and underreported accidents, and no report has been launched. Whereas Sanders might name an Amazon govt to testify earlier than the committee as he did with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz over allegations of union busting, in the end the committee doesn’t have enforcement energy in opposition to Amazon.

“There’s not a whole lot a congressional inquiry can do besides the publicity,” mentioned Barab.

Amazon mentioned it’s cooperating with the congressional committee and that its “invitation to Senator Sanders to tour one of our sites remains open.”

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