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Amazon Labor Union Taps Legal Expert as Colorado Warehouse Logs Employee Death

An Amazon employee died at a Colorado fulfillment center on Dec. 27, marking another on-the-clock passing that occurred at one of the e-commerce giant’s warehouses.

Rick Jacobs, 61, is the identified worker who passed away, according to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office.

The Colorado Springs Police Department confirmed the death happened at the Colorado Springs, Col. Amazon warehouse, and that his death was not work related. An Amazon spokesperson told local TV news affiliate KKTV 11 Jacobs had a heart attack just a few minutes before his shift ended at 5 a.m.

Several people were around Jacobs the time and at least one person started administering first aid as 911 was called and managers were notified, the report said.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to Sourcing Journal’s request for comment.

According to KKTV 11, Amazon denied several people’s claims that boxes were used to hide Jacobs’ body from other workers.

This marks the fourth death that occurred at an Amazon warehouse in 2022, including three in New Jersey. A fifth worker died days after he was involved in a forklift crash in a Carlisle, Pa. warehouse. These incidents all occurred between July 13 and Aug. 4. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is still investigating the New Jersey and Pennsylvania deaths, which increased lawmakers’ scrutiny of the e-commerce giant amid efforts to improve safety measures at its warehouses.

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In a separate matter, OSHA issued Amazon 14 labor violations in December for failing to properly record work-related injuries and illnesses at six additional warehouses across Florida, Illinois, Colorado, Idaho and New York. Amazon, which faces $29,008 in proposed penalties, said in a statement that the citations involve clerical errors and didn’t indicate a systemic recordkeeping problem.

Amazon Labor Union hires law firm to protect workers

Jacobs’ death and the ongoing OSHA investigations come as Amazon’s first union retained a law firm to help employees at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, N.Y. better understand how to navigate workers compensation benefits.

Amazon Labor Union (ALU) retained Sean Riordan of the firm McIntyre, Donohue, Accardi, Salmonson & Riordan LLP (MDSAR) as disability council. MDSAR and ALU jointly have begun implementing a program at the fulfillment center to ensure that workers who are injured in the course of their duties are provided proper medical evaluation and treatment.

“Across the country Amazon has reported tens of thousands of serious injuries each and every year where workers are hurt so badly they can’t work,” said Chris Smalls, president of Amazon Labor Union, in a statement. “It is a new year, and as president of ALU, I am making this a top priority to get a handle on workplace injuries and ensure ALU members who are injured on the job are filing workers’ compensation claims.”

With MDSAR’s assistance, ALU aims to help JFK8 warehouse workers injured on the job become fully aware of their right to workers compensation benefits, get proper medical evaluation and treatment and assist with enforcement, if needed.

“Every worker should feel knowledgeable and confident in exercising their right to medical care and proper compensation for their injuries without fear of retribution,” Riordan. “Our goal is to have every ALU member feel the power of those protections.”

ALU’s decision is a timely one, coming nearly two weeks after New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Warehouse Worker Protection Act into state law. The legislation is designed to guard warehouse employees against performance quotas deemed unreasonable or overly demanding, and protect them against disciplinary actions such as termination if they don’t meet undisclosed speed quotas or quotas that do not allow for proper breaks.

In a statement, ALU referred to a recent study from the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), which indicated that Amazon warehouse workers in the U.S. suffered serious injuries at twice the rate of similar companies. In 2021, there were 6.8 serious injuries for every 100 Amazon warehouse workers, the report said, which had 3.3 serious injuries per 100 workers as an industry average.

ALU claimed that “like other New York Amazon facilities,” the JFK8 warehouse has seen serious worker injury rates that are “much higher” than warehouses operated by other companies in the state.

“Many of our members at JFK8 who were injured while performing their job duties are currently working with injuries,” said Smalls. “Many are unaware that they can file a comp claim and be compensated for their injuries. It’s important for those working in Amazon facilities to know that their union and its lawyers has their back. Today, we turn the page and ensure our members at JFK8 will get the treatment they need and know their rights.”

Employees at JFK8 won an election to unionize in April 2022, becoming the first facility of Amazon workers to successfully organize a union. Smalls, who was fired by Amazon in April 2020 after allegedly breaking quarantining rules to plan a walkout at the Staten Island warehouse, became the face of the facility’s unionization push. Amazon has since challenged the election results.

The union has a contentious relationship with the retail giant, which suspended more than 50 workers at the Staten Island facility in October following a worker safety protest in response to a fire that broke out in the building.

In recent response to many criticisms levied against the company, Amazon said in September that it would spend nearly $1 billion on benefits, including increasing the average starting pay for its fulfillment and transportation employees. This amounted to a boost from $18 an hour to $19, which went into effect the next month. The average is based on pay ranging from $16 to $26 per hour.