Amazon Worker Safety Under Fire From Dem Legislators

By Michael Joe
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Law360 (October 16, 2020, 11:42 PM EDT) -- Three Massachusetts Democrats accused Amazon of misleading lawmakers about the safety of its warehouse fulfillment centers, saying a recent news report suggests the company is not addressing high injury rates among its workers despite publicly touting workplace safety.

In a sharply worded letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos dated Oct. 14, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy questioned whether the company was committed to safety over profit and demanded the company provide information about what changes it has made since January to prioritize workers' safety.

"We are gravely concerned that, as evidence mounts of unsafe working conditions for Amazon warehouse workers, Amazon's response continues to be to roll out PR campaigns and misrepresent workers' injury risk to Congress and the public rather than implement meaningful changes that protect workers," the letter said.

The letter cited a Sept. 29 investigative report by Reveal and the Center For Investigative Reporting that analyzed Amazon safety reports and injury data. According to the report, "company officials have profoundly misled the public and lawmakers about its record on worker safety."

The lawmakers said new details in the report reveal that Amazon's Jan. 6 letter in response to an earlier congressional inquiry included misleading statements about its safety record and practices.

Specifically, the lawmakers asked the company to reconcile a data point stating its lost-time injury rate at its Fall River, Massachusetts, facility declined 34.3% from 2018 to 2019 during its "peak season" while Reveal's reporting showed the injury rate at the facility actually increased by more than 50% over the period.

The letter also asked the company whether several of its pilot projects to promote worker safety were suspended at fulfillment centers during Amazon's Prime Days on Oct. 13 and 14, a peak shipping time.

"Prime Days are an invention of your company to bolster sales," the letter said. "Given Amazon data shows spikes in worker injuries during Prime Days, what changes did Amazon implement this year to protect workers from injury during the October 13-14 Prime Days?"

In addition, the lawmakers took issue with the company's January response to questions about whether and how safety is considered in formulating its targeted performance expectations for its warehouse workers.

The lawmakers noted the company's January letter said its "associates performance expectations for each task are compared to other associates' performance of the same tasks."

"This is a description of a system that pits workers' capacity to keep up at any cost against each other, not a system that incentivizes safety," the letter said. The legislators asked Amazon whether the company has ever reduced performance targets in response to its safety and injury data and what consequences workers face for not meeting those targets.

How Amazon tracks worker productivity and its impact on worker safety were raised in a lawsuit in a New York federal court brought by Staten Island warehouse workers suing for better COVID-19 protections. A letter filed Wednesday by plaintiffs said Amazon has revived its policies of tracking worker productivity that the company previously said it had suspended.

The lawmakers gave Amazon until Oct. 28 to respond to their inquiries.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request from Law360 for comment Friday.

-- Additional reporting by Tim Ryan. Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

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