What’s going on in Amazon’s warehouses
Amazon employs one-third of the employees working in warehouses in the U.S., but nearly half of all workplace injuries at such sites occurred at the online retail giant in 2021, according to a report released on April 12 by a coalition of unions.
According to the organization, the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), workers in Amazon’s logistics centers suffered more than 34,000 “serious injuries” on the job last year, a rate twice as high as that of U.S. warehouses not owned by the Seattle-based group. “After relaxing some of its disciplinary practices during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon reinstated its control systems and production pressure in late 2020, and the injury rate has risen dramatically in the wake,” the SOC says.
The move mentions, it was based on data provided by Amazon to OSHA, the federal agency responsible for preventing workplace injuries. The group did not respond to an AFP request immediately. Amazon has been hiring like crazy during the pandemic. According to the report, in the United States, the company has grown from about 700 sites in 2020 to more than 900 in 2021, and from more than 200,000 employees in 2017 to more than 560,000 in 2021.
By the second half of 2021, Amazon had overhauled working conditions in the country, including longer breaks for its workers who prepare packages, ship them and deliver them. This decision came after the previous damning SOC report, and any attempt to unionize at a company warehouse in Alabama. That failed, but the campaign exposed what many employees described as the company’s infernal pace.
“We must do better for our employees,” wrote Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, in his annual letter to shareholders. “We will be the best employer and the safest place to work on Earth,” he promised, mentioning measures already taken or being deployed to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders related to repetitive tasks.
Despite this, “contrary to this commitment (…) the injury rate in Amazon’s warehouses has risen by 20% between 2020 and 2021,” says the SOC. The employees of the so-called “JFK8” site in New York voted in the majority at the end of March for the creation of a union, a first in an American Amazon warehouse.