The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) dropped a scathing new report Wednesday alleging Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center operates according to a “production-obsessed” workplace culture that “prioritizes productivity over human needs.”
The report is based on a survey including responses from 142 of the 2,500 (an Amazon representative placed this number closer to 4,500) employees currently working at the warehouse, with additional testimonials from three workers who chose to anonymously comment on their own experiences.
NYCOSH, a non-profit organization “founded on the principle that workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths are preventable,” said it was directed to investigate the State Island facility based on the “prevalence of negative reports” concerning working conditions at Amazon’s facility.
In its report, the NYCOSH found “overwhelming evidence” that the workplace culture at the facility fostered unsafe expectations for employees, pressuring them to ignore their needs in favor of more efficient work.
“Several workers expressed being evaluated on and docked points for the amount of ‘time off task’ spent in a day,” the report read. “‘Time off task’ refers to any break that a worker takes, excluding their legally required 30-minute lunch break. If a worker has too much time off task, they may be disciplined and are ultimately subject to termination for poor performance.”
The organization said that this, along with Amazon’s “Leadership Principles” emphasizing vigorous work done quickly, creates an environment in which employees are compelled to work through pain, lack of proper hydration and even the need to use the bathroom in order to continue performing at a level that would not result in a demotion or firing.
In either case, 97 percent of those surveyed said they were able to use the bathroom when needed.
When it came to physical discomfort, 66 percent responded that they had experienced pain at some point as a result of their work at the Staten Island warehouse and another 42 percent said they continued to feel some pain even when not on the job. Of those, 18 percent answered that they had experienced “bodily injury” while performing work-related tasks while another 10 percent claimed they had received multiple injuries throughout their time with Amazon.
“They basically have a quota system that has you handle at least 2,000 units throughout the day. Four items per minute…just the quota system pushes you to really not work at a pace that’s normal, but at a pace where you’re almost running for the entire ten hours,” an anonymous Amazon employee told NYCOSH. “You’re in a small box. There’s no walls. It’s not boxed in. But it’s like, there’s tape on the ground and an ergo mat you stand on. […] It must be 50 square feet or something like that. You’re constantly turning, bending, running. They say they make a big deal about safety, but when you’re working so fast, you’re not going to follow those mandates.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the general warehouse industry reported that 5.2 percent of all workers in the field experienced a work-related injury or illness in 2017, the latest data available. Compared to the 18 percent who claimed injury at the Staten Island facility, NYCOSH said that the survey’s data shows a “stunning” disparity between the facility and an average warehouse in the United States.
“It doesn’t take long before you’ve seen blown backs, boxes falling on people’s heads, carpal tunnel in your coworkers’ wrists, and balky knees that never get better,” another anonymous testimony read. “You’ve seen workers compensation claims repeatedly denied and efforts to address safety issues given low priority. You’ve seen sexism, racism, and ageism in a promotion culture tainted with favoritism.”
Along with the physical pain reported by Staten Island workers, NYCOSH also pointed to the psychological damage caused by the allegedly unsafe workplace culture. A full 80 percent said they felt pressured to work harder while 49 percent answered that they had experienced “psychological stress” due to their employment at Amazon’s facility. Additionally, 63 percent admitted to having some difficulty with sleep as a result of their employment.
NYCOSH concluded its report by offering three “key recommendations” for Amazon if it wants to improve the safety of its workers and the overall workplace culture: allow workers to unionize, build a “comprehensive ergonomics program” and reduce line speeds.
Amazon disputed NYCOSH’s findings and a representative for the e-commerce retailer said the claims in the report were “not only false, but the data is being skewed and misreported in an attempt to sensationalize a union-backed misleading agenda.”
“People shouldn’t be fooled by this self-serving report–NYCOSH is not a government agency–it is a union led organization run by private committees focused on generating false narratives in an effort to create interest and potential revenue for the unions they serve,” the Amazon spokesperson said, describing the report as a “biased and unreliable survey.”
Amazon takes offense at the report sampling just 3 percent of its Staten Island workforce. “It is an example of selective data skewed to support false statements by an organization that’s sole business objective is to misinform the public on Amazon’s safety record,” the spokesperson added, charging that the retailing giant offers a “safe, quality working environment” for not just the borough’s 4,500 full-time workers but also the quarter of a million hourly employees staffing its network of roughly 100 sprawling warehouses across the U.S.
And Amazon welcomes naysayers to “come see for yourself” that its warehouse workplace is above reproach, adding, “Don’t take our word for it though.”
“We are proud to be a leader in providing our employees with a safe and modern workplace, and encourage anyone to compare our overall pay, benefits, and workplace environment to other retailers and major employers in the community and across the country,” the spokesperson concluded.
Last month, however, a worker died after going into cardiac arrest during his shift at Amazon’s Etna, Ohio, warehouse and his brother claims the man lay on the floor for 20 minutes—as he was said he was told by an Amazon HR representative— before anyone noticed and offered assistance, though the company also disputes those claims, per The Guardian.
“How can you not see a 6ft 3in man laying on the ground and not help him within 20 minutes? A couple of days before, he put the wrong product in the wrong bin and within two minutes management saw it on camera and came down to talk to him about it,” Edward Foister told the British publication of his late brother Billy.