July 23, 2024
Amazon workers’ serious-injury rates still double those of other warehouse workers, study shows

Amazon workers’ serious-injury rates still double those of other warehouse workers, study shows

For the second year in a row, an annual report’s findings that serious-injury rates at Amazon.com Inc.’s warehouses were more than twice the rates at other warehouses coincides with a shareholder resolution calling for an independent audit of worker health and safety.

The injury rate of 6.6 per 100 workers at Amazon’s U.S. warehouses in 2022 was an improvement from last year’s rate of 6.8 per 100 workers, but still more than double that of 3.2 per 100 workers at non-Amazon warehouses, according to a report released Wednesday by the Strategic Organizing Center. The analysis by SOC, a group made up of three labor unions, is based on injury data Amazon submitted last year to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for more than 1,000 warehouses and delivery facilities.

Injuries at the company’s warehouses totaled almost 39,000 last year, during which Amazon employed 36% of all U.S. warehouse workers but accounted for 53% of all serious injuries in the industry, the union coalition’s report said.

An Amazon warehouse worker who joined SOC during a news conference Wednesday suggested that the OSHA figures may actually underestimate the true number of worker injuries.

“The reports that Amazon is putting out there don’t represent what’s actually happening in the warehouse,” said Daniel Rivera. He said he suffered heat-related health issues last summer because of a lack of circulation at the Amazon Air Hub in San Bernardino, Calif., where he works.

“I’m sure my heat-related injury was not documented,” Rivera said, adding that he fears retaliation because he has spoken up about working conditions and is involved with Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, a group that is trying to organize the company’s workers.

Amazon on Wednesday pushed back on the SOC report and said “the truth is clearly outlined” in its own safety report, which it released last month.

“It’s unsurprising that a self-interested group like this would work to twist the facts to paint an inaccurate picture,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, said in an emailed statement.

Amazon’s own workplace-safety report showed some improvements, including an 11% year-over-year decline in what it calls recordable incident rates. Another company spokesperson also took issue with what the SOC used as a metric for serious injuries — DART (days away, restricted and transferred), a metric used by OSHA — and said Amazon prefers to look at lost-time incident rates, or “the most serious injuries that require someone to take time off,” as a more accurate gauge of serious injuries. That rate was down 53% from 2019 to 2022, Amazon’s report said.

Eric Frumin, the SOC’s health and safety director, said Wednesday during the group’s news conference that “DART is a pretty widely accepted metric in industry, policy circles and the government for evaluating companies’ safety programs.”

The SOC has repeatedly criticized and challenged Amazon’s reporting of its injury rates, including in its report this year. The group last year also wrote a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission asking it to investigate “false and misleading health and safety disclosures” by Amazon. The group has not received a response from the SEC, according to an SOC spokesperson.

Amazon investors are watching the company’s worker-related issues. Last year, a first-time shareholder resolution calling for an audit of warehouse working conditions received 44% of overall shareholder votes, or 53.4% if insider votes were excluded.

Constance Ricketts, the head of shareholder activism at Tulipshare, which filed the resolution last year and has resubmitted it for this proxy season, told MarketWatch she is hopeful that the resolution will pass this year with an overall majority vote.

Ricketts cited developments since Amazon’s shareholder meeting last May — including a court decision late last year ordering the company to cease and desist from firing employees for protected activities, and several OSHA safety citations — as examples that “further illustrate why an independent health and safety audit is so necessary at Amazon.”

So far this year, OSHA has cited Amazon over ergonomic hazards at seven locations in five states, with officials saying the company’s “work processes are designed for speed, not safety.” The first three citations were issued in January; three more citations were issued in early February; and the last one was issued in late February.

Other groups have also slammed Amazon’s safety report. The Athena Coalition, which includes dozens of advocacy groups focused on “taking on Amazon,” said this week: “Amazon cannot be trusted to report on its own injury crisis. Instead, we demand that federal agencies address the concerns of Amazon warehouse workers and drivers by ending the surveillance and automated management that cause injury and contribute to the unsafe and retaliatory working conditions at the corporation.”

Some states, such as California and New York, have passed laws to address quotas at warehouses such as Amazon’s in an effort to minimize the risk of injuries.

Amazon filed its proxy Thursday, and as expected, recommends a vote against the proposal. The company will hold its annual general meeting on May 24.

In its argument against the proposal, the company referred to its own safety report and said it has “made meaningful and measurable progress over the last four years.” The company also touted its spending on safety, saying it spent about $1 billion in safety initiatives unrelated to COVID-19 from 2019 to 2022, and that it is spending $550 million on such initiatives in 2023.

In Chief Executive Andy Jassy’s letter to shareholders, which was also released Thursday, he mentions that the company has “scrutinized every process path in our fulfillment centers and transportation network and redesigned scores of processes and mechanisms, resulting in steady productivity gains and cost reductions over the last few quarters.” He did not mention worker safety.

See: Amazon CEO Andrew Jassy’s total compensation plunges

This story has been updated with information from Amazon’s proxy.

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