Amazon, the retail giant which announced this week an across-the-board wage increase to $15 an hour for all employees, must also pay “urgent attention” to workplace safety issues, says the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).
“Amazon workers desperately need a real pay increase,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of National COSH, a nationwide training and advocacy organization for workers and families. “But a pay increase is worth a lot more if you come home in one piece at the end of your shift.”
In April 2018, Amazon was identified as a “Dirty Dozen” company in a widely-cited National COSH report, which documented seven deaths at the company’s warehouses since 2013. Three workers died in a five-week period in September and October 2017.
Holiday season adds pressure
"Once again, it's the start of Amazon's busy holiday shipping season, with all the dangers that creates," said Peter Dooley, safety and health project consultant at National COSH. "The pressure to move products will be intense inside the company's warehouses. After seven preventable deaths, the company must implement a program that eliminates all preventable illnesses, injuries and fatalities. And workers need to be part of that program for it to work."
The seven workers who have died in Amazon facilities since 2013 include:
- Devan Michael Shoemaker, run over by a truck at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on Sept. 19, 2017.
- Phillip Terry, 59, whose head was crushed by a forklift at an Amazonwarehouse in Plainfield, Indiana on September 23, 2017
- Karla Kay Arnold, 50, who died from multiple injuriesafter being struck by a sports utility vehicle in the parking lot of an Amazon warehouse in Monee, Illinois on October 23, 2017.
- Jody Rhoads, 52, crushed and pinned to death by a pallet loader at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on June 1st, 2014. (This is the same facility where Devan Michael Shoemaker was killed in September 2017.)
- Name unknown, crushed to death by a forklift at an Amazon warehouse in Fernley, NV on November 4th, 2014.
- Jeff Lockhart, 29, a temporary employee who died from a cardiac event after an overnight shift at an Amazon warehouse in Chester, VA on January 19th, 2013.
- Roland Smith, 57, a temporary employee, dragged and crushed by a conveyor belt at an Amazon warehouse in Avenel, New Jersey on December 4th, 2013.
Earlier this week, announcing a pay raise to $15 an hour for 350,000 U.S. workers, Amazon funder and CEO Jeff Bezos said the company “decided we want to lead.” According to The Guardian and CNBC, however, the company workers will now lose out on bonuses and stock awards, offsetting – or even overtaking – the impact of the pay raise.
In addition, a recent report from Gizmodo uncovered “aggressive anti-union tactics” at Amazon. “[M]anagers are encouraged to express opinions against unions to their workers,” reported the technology news site, “and any of signs of potential organization are supposed to be escalated to human resources and general managers immediately.”
“The path to safe good-paying jobs is a real voice for workers and a seat at the table,” said Goldstein-Gelb. “Pushing managers to campaign against unions isn’t leading. It’s following an outdated, top-down command structure that doesn’t fit today’s workers or today’s workplaces.”
“Amazon can move products around the globe in a matter of hours,” said Dooley. “To be a true leader, Jeff Bezos must use the same focus and intensity to listen to workers and eliminate the hazards which can injure or kill people at Amazon facilities.”