A trio of Democratic Congress members from Massachusetts is demanding that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos answer questions about the company’s deception around worker injuries and its failure to address high injury rates at its fulfillment centers.
“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,” Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III wrote in a letter Wednesday.
The letter cited the recent investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, which exposed how Amazon profoundly misled the public, press and lawmakers about the mounting injury crisis in its warehouses. For example, the company had claimed that robots made its warehouses safer and injuries didn’t rise with Prime Day and the holidays. The company’s own internal records, obtained by Reveal, showed that robotic warehouses had significantly higher injury rates and that the weeks of Prime Day and Cyber Monday saw the highest injury rates last year.
“Your misleading responses and public misrepresentations about Amazon’s safety record raise concerns about your commitment to the safety of Amazon workers, and to creating a workplace that prioritizes and values worker safety,” the letter states.
Amazon had declined to directly answer questions about Reveal’s findings, but provided a statement saying, “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our teams.”
Amazon’s Fall River, Massachusetts, warehouse had some of the worst injury rates of Amazon’s nationwide network of more than 150 fulfillment centers last year. It logged 15 serious injuries – those requiring time off work or job restrictions – per 100 employees, compared with the most recent industry average of 4.
Reveal found that Amazon had previously misled Warren, Markey and Kennedy after they’d sent the company a letter expressing concerns about those injury rates. Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, cited one period of 2019 when the Fall River warehouse had a lower lost-time injury rate than 2018 as evidence of “the continuous improvement initiatives executed locally and companywide.” In fact, for the full year of 2019, the Massachusetts fulfillment center had a rate of lost-time injuries more than 50% higher compared with 2018.
“How do you reconcile this information with the statements in your January letter?” the lawmakers asked in their latest letter, as part of a series of questions. They’ve requested Amazon respond by Oct. 28.
Reveal also found that Amazon put some pilot programs to improve safety on hold during Prime Day last year.
“Prime Days are an invention of your company to bolster sales,” the lawmakers’ letter said. “If pilot programs that help keep workers safe are unworkable during Prime Days, suspending those programs rather than evaluating whether to continue Prime Days is a misguided response that clearly values profit over personnel.”
The lawmakers pushed Amazon to explain how it takes safety into consideration in determining the aggressive production rates workers must hit. In response to the lawmakers’ previous queries, Amazon stated that “associates’ performance expectations for each task are compared to other associates’ performance for those same tasks.”
The lawmakers wrote: “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.”