Amazon, the most powerful e-commerce company in the world, has a weak history of trying to correct its dangerous labor practices that often lead to the exploitation of blue-collar workers.
Not only is the e-commerce company using its power to censor and deplatform content and organizations it doesn’t agree with, but the corporate giant also engages its influence, which it claims to dedicate to “improving lives” and financially supporting leftist movements such as Black Lives Matter with millions of dollars, to provide damage control for its clear pattern of dangerous and derogatory working conditions in its facilities all around the world.
In the midst of the largest and longest government-induced lockdowns in American history, a self-inflicted tragedy that put a dent in the nation’s economy, business at Amazon was booming. Not only did the e-commerce company hire more than 427,300 employees all around the world in 10 short months, but the company confessed just four months into the lockdowns that its revenue shot up by at least 40 percent compared to 2019, a jump aided and abetted by politicians and health officials who continued to keep brick and mortar stores closed.
Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos once again assumed the title of the world’s richest person this year, clocking a record-breaking $200 billion net worth last August. Even as he prepares to step away from his position, the founder will still reap the benefits of building the largest, most powerful e-commerce company in the world.
Amazon’s track record with its workers, though, doesn’t necessarily reconcile with its corporate financial success. One simple internet search about Amazon’s lack of fair labor practices provides hundreds of thousands of results detailing hazards such as high or low temperatures in warehouses, items, and products that are too heavy for a worker to handle unassisted, excessive standing periods, heightened productivity rushed by the threat of losing the job, elaborate non-compete agreements, a lack of breaks, instructions to not call 911 if anything goes wrong, and other dangers that resulted in injuries, illness, and in some cases, contributed to death.
For more than a decade, Amazon employees all around the world have spoken out about the “sweatshop” working conditions in the company’s warehouses and on delivery routes as the company routinely engages in dishonest campaigns that boast of “robust safety management” even during peak business seasons. Contrary to Amazon’s claims, internal data reports spanning at least five years show that injury rates among Amazon employees are rising and tend to spike on huge e-commerce days such as Cyber Monday.
In 2019 alone, “Amazon fulfillment centers recorded 14,000 serious injuries – those requiring days off or job restrictions” and saw an “overall rate of 7.7 serious injuries per 100 employees was 33% higher than in 2016 and nearly double the most recent industry standard.” Even after Amazon added robots to many of its facilities to “make employees’ jobs easier and safer,” records show that “most of the warehouses with the highest rates of injury deployed robots.”
Between 2016 and 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened more than 100 federal investigations into Amazon’s labor practices that often resulted in prompts from the agency for the company to “change conditions that posed hazards to employees.” Amazon, however, often combated OSHA’s recommendations by pointing to its use of AmCare clinics to provide onsite aid to any employees who might need it. Worker complaints and reports about on-the-job injuries and disabilities, however, often extend far beyond what “first aid” care requires.
“Between 2015 and 2018, OSHA reported 41 ‘severe’ injuries resulting in hospitalization, including six amputations and 15 fractures, associated with Amazon delivery or fulfillment jobs,” Mother Jones reported in 2019.
In one instance in 2011, Amazon warehouse workers in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, an area close to urban hubs such as Philadelphia and New York City, said they were forced to work through temperatures inside that rose to more than 100 degrees in summers, which often resulted in heat-induced sickness and injury that reinforced the company’s habit of hiring temporary workers through Integrity Staffing Solutions that they can quickly dispose of and replace.
“Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who were dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time,” the Morning Call wrote, noting that some of those who fell ill, including pregnant women, were asked to sign papers that said their sudden illness was not work-related.
When concerns were brought to the OSHA and subsequently Amazon by hospital staff and workers concerned about health and safety, the company issued a blanket statement claiming that “the safety and welfare of our employees is our No. 1 priority” and that “free water, snacks, extra fans and cooled air during the summer” should do the trick.
Amazon’s seemingly dismissive attempts to maintain the face of a responsible company worth working for extends beyond warehouses. Dozens of package delivery drivers contracted by the company testified to Business Insider in 2018 that they consistently received poor treatment from the corporate giant while on the clock, such as peeing in bottles or buckets to stay on schedule or risk losing their jobs.
Concerns about the length and frequency of breaks, even to simply use the restroom, as well as dangerous driving conditions due to a large number of packages in a vehicle, however, are still fended off with yet another Amazon campaign to fend off concerned people and politicians on Twitter about their “progressive workplace” policies.
2/2 We hope you can enact policies that get other employers to offer what we already do.
— Amazon News (@amazonnews) March 25, 2021
The company issued a similarly shady response when workers expressed fears over the spread of COVID-19 and Amazon’s lack of transparency to local health departments and employees about warehouse outbreaks and even virus deaths during the 2020 pandemic.
“We believe that sharing a case count is misleading, and lacks a significant amount of context — like when each individual was last on site, the overall infection rate in the community where the site is located, community data relative to where the associate lives, timelines since the start of the pandemic and the overall rate compared to other companies,” an Amazon spokesperson told NBC News.
While Amazon is often viewed by economically driven politicians and developers as a company that provides employment opportunities to communities that really need it, the harsh conditions some Amazon workers have repeatedly faced give pro-union politicians and groups ammunition to go after the e-commerce company, which has deployed its resources to spy on workers who engaged in “labor organizing activities” and gather detailed intelligence about certain strikes and meetings targeting the employer.
Amazon continues to use its power to manipulate the public into thinking its warehouses and delivery activities are safe and secure. But as the global company’s power grows, it is evident that the problems left unaddressed will grow also. Blue-collar workers who need jobs will continue to turn to the company as it expands its reach by building new warehouses stocked with temporary staff, but they could leave the company with severe, life-long injuries only to be quickly replaced and forgotten by their previous employer and politicians who claim to represent their best interests.