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Unions Dispute Amazon’s ‘Misleading’ Workplace Safety Report

Jeff Bezos laid out some bold ambitions to make Amazon “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work,” but a recent report on the e-commerce giant’s workplace safety progress has one labor organization calling the self-assessment “misleading” and “self-serving.”

The company’s in-house “Delivered with Care” workplace safety report cited 6.4 injuries for every 200,000 working hours in 2020 at Amazon’s U.S. warehouses. That’s higher than the industry average of 5.5, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

But for the Seattle tech titan’s U.S. transportation and logistics arm, which includes workers at Amazon’s delivery depots, sort centers and air freight hubs, the company’s injury rate averaged 7.6, better than the 9.1 industry average, the report said.

The report aimed to establish Amazon’s benchmarks for safety, health, and wellbeing as the company pushes toward the vision Bezos laid out last year in his final shareholder letter as CEO.

Amazon noted that recordable incident rates (RIR), which measure how often an injury or illness occurs at work, improved 24 percent from 6.7 occurrences in 2019 to 5.1 in 2020 across all facilities worldwide. The company also noted that lost time incident rates (LTIR), which measure the number of injuries and illnesses that result in time away from work, improved 43 percent from 4.0 occurrence to 2.3 in the same time frame.

But the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), a coalition of major labor unions representing more than 4 million workers, is taking umbrage with these totals, releasing a factsheet disputing the recently published workplace safety report.

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Amazon did not comment on the SOC factsheet.

The SOC alleges that Amazon misleadingly compares its injury rates to the BLS injury rates for the entire warehouse and storage industry, with the coalition citing that Amazon alone makes up one-third of the employment in this industry, distorting the industry averages.

The coalition also said Amazon’s report makes no mention of injuries among delivery drivers, while it claims that the e-commerce giant’s delivery service partner (DSP) drivers had more than twice the injury rates of Amazon warehouse workers in 2020.

The coalition levied three other accusations against Amazon. It suggests that the e-commerce firm is trying to blame workers for their own injuries. SOC said that Washington state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that Amazon had violated the OSH Act by setting a “work pace [which] does not leave enough time for workers to use equipment intended to make the work safer, [and] also makes it impractical for workers to follow Amazon’s safety training, including safe lifting methods.”

Amazon is also accused of misleadingly claiming that its production pressure metrics such as “rate” and “time off task” are not used to punish workers. In its allegations, the SOC said 52 percent of Amazon workers surveyed said the company has terminated, disciplined or threatened to discipline workers in their workplace for failing to keep up with the pace of work since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Finally, the SOC argued that Amazon provides no evidence that it actually provides the “industry-leading” pay and benefits it says it does. While Amazon claims its average starting pay is $18 per hour, the BLS reports that the average hourly pay for a non-supervisory worker in the warehouse and storage industry is $21.39, suggesting that Amazon is below-average. However, there is no indication of how long those in the positions identified by the BLS have worked at those jobs.

Amazon pointed to its benefits plan including medical, prescription drug, dental, and vision coverage, as well as access to telehealth and on-demand healthcare services through Amazon Care. The company said it provided gender transition benefits and support where possible.

The coalition also questioned why Amazon chose not to release any injury data for 2021.

Amazon released the report in the wake of a January public hearing in Washington state on health and safety of warehouse workers.

Sen. Steve Conway (D-Wash.), who is the vice chair of the Senate Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee, introduced legislation earlier in January that would require employers to disclose more information about quotas that workers at large warehouses are expected to fill, part of an effort to ensure those requirements don’t put workers at risk by encouraging them to skip breaks or cut corners to meet the threshold.

“Cutting corners” could mean working through lunch or trying to speed up the process by using improper lifting techniques or not leaving a safe distance from other machine operators, John Scearcy, a principal officer for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 117, said at the hearing.

As part of Bezos’ push, Amazon invested $300 million in safety improvements last year, including an initial $66.5 million to create technology that will help prevent collisions of forklifts and other types of industrial vehicles. The company also implemented a WorkingWell coaching program in 2020 to reduce musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) like sprains or strains that can be caused by repetitive motions, especially for new employees who may be working in a physical role for the first time. The program cut overall MSDs by 32 percent from 2019 to 2020.

And although it has been under fire regarding the safety of its warehouses throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon has incurred more than $15 billion in pandemic-related costs since March 2020.

On top of the other investments, Amazon said in the report that it has committed $700 million to upskill 100,000 U.S. employees by 2025, and is currently investing in skills training programs to achieve this goal.

Amazon’s report comes after numerous investigations into the company’s workplace health and safety conditions—including the SOC, the Bezos-owned Washington Post, The Seattle Times and Reveal News.

Consisting of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Communications Workers of America (CWA) and United Farmworkers of America (UFW), the SOC put together a report of its own in May 2021 called “Primed for Pain: Amazon’s Epidemic of Workplace Injuries.” The report pointed out that in 2020, Amazon racked up 6.5 injuries per 100 warehouse workers versus an average of 4.0 per 100 workers industrywide.

The coalition said 37 percent of injured Amazon workers who responded to its online survey reported that management pressured them to return to work before they felt ready to do so.

SOC’s report compared Amazon’s injury rates to rates at non-Amazon warehouses, finding that Amazon’s serious injury rate was 80 percent higher than that for all non-Amazon warehouses.