Amazon is having a rocky time in New York City as workers from the online retailer’s Staten Island distribution center protest poor working conditions, and dozens of NYC elected officials have demanded more information about the reports of dangerous working conditions in the Amazon warehouse. This all comes after Amazon canceled plans to build a second headquarters, HQ2, in Queens last year following local opposition to the deal.
It’s not hard to find allegations of strict and dangerous working conditions and workplace injury at Amazon warehouses. Warehouse workers are responsible for placing consumer products in bins and on shelves and packaging products for shipment to customers.
A December 2019 report in The Atlantic speaks of Amazon’s unrelenting surveillance, and constant disciplinary write-ups, as workers struggle to meet a scan rate of more than 300 items an hour, amounting to thousands of individual products a day.
In July 2019, the New York Post published “Inside the hellish workday of an Amazon warehouse employee,” which focused on a 35-year-old woman’s time in an Amazon fulfillment center and how it left her in constant pain.
In addition, there are other reports of:
- Accidents at Amazon: workers left to suffer after warehouse injuries, by The Guardian, July 2018
- Inside an Amazon warehouse: “Treating human beings as robots,” by CBS News, April 2018
- Amazon Warehouse Employees’ Message to Jeff Bezos – We Are Not Robots, by The Street, September 2017.
AM New York reported in December 2019 that 600 employees at Amazon’s Staten Island facility had signed onto a petition attesting to the claim that their work environment felt hazardous and that Amazon’s OSHA 300A logs showed an incident rate of 15.2 per 100 employees. Workers’ advocates Make the Road NY claimed that the incident rate was higher than reported for coal miners or waste collection workers.
The OSHA Form 300-A is a summary of work-related injuries and illnesses that employers are required to post in the workplace annually and make available to employees upon request. Employers record each reportable injury and illness that occurs in the workplace on Form 300.
Amazon said an incident rate of 15.2 per 100 employees was not an adequate comparison due to the sheer size of its workforce. A spokeswoman said the number of injuries that occur at Amazon facilities may seem elevated compared to other companies because the company is committed to reporting workplace accidents while other companies may be underreporting to keep statistics low.
In November, protesters rallied at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse. A week later, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, protesters marched about half a mile through midtown Manhattan to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ 5th Avenue penthouse in snowy weather, Business Insider reported. They were speaking out against warehouse working conditions.
What Are Considered Poor Working Conditions Under New York Law?
American workers have the right to a safe workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. The law created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which enforces workplace safety and health standards.
The law gives workers the right to participate in activities to ensure their protection from job hazards. Workers may participate in OSHA inspections and speak in private with inspectors. A worker may file a complaint with OSHA if he or she has been retaliated against by an employer as the result of requesting an inspection or exercising other rights under OSHA law.
Private sector employees in New York are covered by the federal workplace safety law. Public employees in New York are covered by an OSHA-approved state plan under which OSHA and N.Y. Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau protect workers’ rights to a safe and healthful workplace.
OSHA standards are rules that describe the methods that employers must use to protect their employees from hazards. OSHA standards are designed to protect workers from a wide range of hazards. OSHA standards:
- Set limits on the amounts of hazardous chemicals, toxic substances, or noise that workers can be exposed to in the workplace
- Require the use of certain safe work practices and equipment
- Require employers to monitor certain hazards and keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses.
Specific OSHA standards address:
- Providing fall protection, such as safety harnesses and lifelines for workers working on roofs and elevated surfaces
- Putting guards on machines to protect fingers, hands, and feet
- Providing most required protective equipment free of charge, such as goggles, earplugs, gloves, respirators
- Training workers using a language and vocabulary they understand about hazards and how to protect themselves.
Employers also must comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act. This clause requires employers to keep their workplaces free of serious recognized hazards. It is generally cited when no specific OSHA standard applies to a hazard found in inspection and/or cited in a complaint.
OSHA once had a standard addressing ergonomics – designing a job to fit the employee, rather than forcing the employee’s body to fit the job – but it was repealed in 2001. The overall goal of ergonomics is to eliminate injuries and disorders associated with the overuse of soft tissue muscles or tendons, awkward posture, and repeated tasks. Common injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis and other sprains and strains – the kinds of injuries Amazon warehouse workers complain of.
Since the repeal, OSHA has addressed ergonomics in a number of ways, including issuing ergonomics guidelines for various industries, such as retail grocery stores and warehouses, beverage distribution, shipyards, nursing homes, poultry processing, and meatpacking plants. OSHA guidelines contain recommendations, best practices and lessons learned for specific industries, but guidelines are advisory and do not have the force of law.
Are Amazon Warehouse Employees Subjected to Hazardous Working Conditions?
Injuries cited by Amazon workers are often due to the stress and strain of standing for long periods and bending, lifting, reaching and stretching to handle and move objects – ergonomic injuries – or are like other common warehouse injuries:
- Falls from ladders and slip and fall accidents, which can cause concussions and fractures
- Forklift injuries, such as being hit or crushed by a moving vehicle or vehicle parts.
The Atlantic refers to an investigation of Amazon by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and its review of internal injury records from 23 of the company’s 110 fulfillment centers nationwide. “Taken together, the rate of serious injuries for those facilities was more than double the national average for the warehousing industry: 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers in 2018, compared with an industry average that year of 4,” The Atlantic says.
The Street reported that, in January 2016, OSHA slapped Amazon’s Robbinsville, New Jersey, fulfillment center with a $7,000 fine for not reporting “26 instances of work-related injuries and illnesses.”
Upon an investigation into the warehouse’s working conditions, OSHA found that the company exposed employees to ergonomic risk factors, including stress from repeated bending at the waist and repeated exertions, and standing for long periods of time.
AM New York says 42 elected officials have called upon Amazon to address allegedly poor conditions at their Staten Island distribution center, and 16 City Council members, 13 State Assembly members, 10 state senators, a congressman, and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Speaker Corey Johnson have signed onto a letter that also calls for the company to increase break time and provide free MetroCards for employees.
Amazon disputed claims in the letter that its Staten Island work environment was unsafe, and a company spokeswoman encouraged the elected officials to tour the facility for themselves, AM New York says.
Speak to an NYC Workers’ Rights & Workplace Injury Attorney
The workplace injury lawyers at the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP, on Long Island are dedicated to standing up for the rights of injured workers. We help injured workers pursue workers’ compensation when workplace injuries occur and exercise their rights to a safe workplace. Whether you have had a slip and fall accident, injured your back or your employee rights are being violated, contact us today. You can schedule your legal consultation for free if you have been injured or are being mistreated at work.