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The past few years have brought profits and growth to Amazon, but it’s come at a cost to many workers. Amazon warehouse employees are injured on the job at a higher rate than at other companies, even as the company has claimed to prioritize safety. 

Host Al Letson speaks with Reveal’s Will Evans, who’s been reporting on injuries at Amazon for years. By gathering injury data and speaking with workers and whistleblowers, he has focused national attention on the company’s safety record, prompting regulators, lawmakers and the company itself to address the issue more closely.  

Then, we bring back a story by Reveal’s Jennifer Gollan that looks at the most common type of injury at Amazon and other workplaces and why the government chose not to try to prevent it. 

We end with a reprise of a story from reporter Laura Sydell about online reviews of products and businesses and how many of them are not what they seem.

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Credits

Reported by: Will Evans, Jennifer Gollan and Laura Sydell | Produced by: Katharine Mieszkowski and Chris Harland-Dunaway | Lead producer: Katharine Mieszkowski | Edited by: Taki Telonidis and Michael Montgomery | Production manager: Najib Aminy | Production assistance: Amy Mostafa | Sound design and original music: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Al Letson

Special thanks: Andrew Donohue, Kate Howard, Esther Kaplan, Soo Oh, Rachel de Leon and Melissa Lewis

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson:Hey, hey, hey, it’s time for another Al’s podcast pick. And today we want to tell you about Resistance, Stories from Ukraine, a podcast from Project Brazen and PRX.

What happens when war lands on your doorstep? Photojournalist Laurel Chor spent six weeks with ordinary Ukrainians who were picking up whatever weapons they could find to fight back against the Russian invasion, even smart phones and sewing needles.

The podcast shows just how much there is to his conflict. Check out Resistance, Stories from Ukraine wherever you get your podcast.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal, I’m Al Letson. Back in spring 2020, it was early in the pandemic, but COVID-19 was already infiltrating Amazon’s warehouses.
Speaker 2:We have nine additional confirmed case of COVID-19.
Al Letson:And as business boomed, many workers felt the company wasn’t protecting them. At another warehouse in New York, some workers walked out and protested the company’s response to the pandemic.
Speaker 3:Chris Smalls sent out a text announce the protest will take place at Amazing Staten Island facility. Smalls has called for the company to halt operations because of the pandemic.
Al Letson:The organizer of that walk out, Chris Smalls, was fired and Amazon didn’t halt operations. It went on to make record profits during the pandemic as so many Americans stayed home and ordered things online.
Speaker 4:The unstoppable Amazon hitting fresh records on Thursday, adding to its 57% gain for the year. But Chris Smalls, he didn’t give up. He kept organizing and started a scrappy, independent union drive.
Chris Smalls:They saw us right there at that bus stop having a bonfire, lighting up s’mores. Whatever it took we were right there for them every day and I think that resonated with the workers.
Al Letson:And last month, against long odds and heavy pushback from the company, he helped achieve what no one else has been able to in the U.S., an Amazon warehouse voting to unionize.
Amazon workers:Yay. Let’s go. Yay.
Al Letson:That’s the sound of Smalls and other workers celebrating their victory with champagne. Amazon is trying to overturn the results, but that union vote is a big deal beyond Amazon for the fight over the future or work.
Chris Smalls:This is going to be the catalyst for the revolution. That’s exactly what this is. You all just witnessed that.
Al Letson:Union efforts are a threat to Amazon’s workplace model. But there are other threats too. State lawmakers and safety regulators are taking action in ways they haven’t ever done before. And a lot of that grew out of the investigations we’ve done and the reporting you’ve heard here on Reveal.

So let’s take a look back at what we found and what it’s leading to know. Reveal’s Will Evans is here to break it all down. Hey, Will.
Will Evans:Hey, Al.
Al Letson:So we’ve been talking about problems at Amazon warehouses for a while now. How did you get into this story?
Will Evans:Yeah, I mean I’d been covering worker safety for a while. And a couple of people suggested looking at Amazon. So I started reaching out to former Amazon safety managers, figuring they’d know if there was a problem.

And I talked to this one person who was really hesitant to talk to me, but thankfully did. And eventually told me that the injury rates at Amazon were really high. And that really piqued my interest and that’s when I decided I needed to see if that was true.
Al Letson:So how do you do that?
Will Evans:Well it was actually pretty difficult. I asked the company for the injury numbers and they, of course, wouldn’t give them to me. The federal government collected the data but they kept it secret too.

But the law says that companies have to give their own workers information about injuries at their own work site. So I started contacting warehouse workers at Amazon, current and former, around the country to see if they would request the records and share them with me.

I reached out to hundreds of people and we even took out some Facebook ads to help me find workers. And a lot of them were scared to ask for the records.

And Amazon didn’t make it easy. They would often ignore the requests. They would tell the workers not to share the records. So it was pretty slow going.
Al Letson:How many did you ultimately get?
Will Evans:Well we were doing this one by one, warehouse by warehouse and we eventually got 23 of them. And we were looking at the injury rates, and one of the ones with the injury rates was in southern California.

So I went to talk to workers there. People like Candace Dixon who hurt her back really badly trying to keep up with the grueling pace in the warehouse.
Candace Dixon:I had hurt so bad. I can’t even tell you like just I would have these sharp pains in the middle of my back, excruciating pain. I was crying. I’m the type of person that just likes to continue working. I don’t like to give up. And I like to do my job well. So I just kept going.
Will Evans:Now she’s facing a lifetime of pain. And her injury was just one of many. We actually got the injury records for that warehouse that you worked at.
Candace Dixon:Right.
Will Evans:Your injury was one of 422 injuries last year.
Candace Dixon:Oh wow.
Will Evans:We calculated the injury rate and that rate was one of the highest injury rates we’ve seen. And it’s more than three and a half times the rate for general warehousing as an industry.
Candace Dixon:That’s crazy. For Amazon, all’s they care about getting the job done and getting it out fast. And not realizing how it’s affecting us and our own bodies.
Al Letson:Okay, why are so many people getting hurt?
Will Evans:As we were reporting this, we realized it really boiled down to speed. The workers have to move too many things too quickly. Their bodies are wearing down, they’re breaking down. And they end up taking shortcuts which lead to accidents.

And that’s what I was hearing even from former Amazon safety managers. But they were all afraid to talk on the record. But we kept trying and finally one of them talked to me on the condition that we disguised his voice.
Speaker 9:When you order something from Amazon and you’ve worked inside Amazon, you wonder like hey is ordering my package going to be the demise of somebody.
Al Letson:So that story came out in 2019. And what happened after that?
Will Evans:Sometimes after you publish a story, people start to come out of the woodwork. New sources and new tips. And that’s what happened here. Someone who was inspired by our reporting actually leaked us a treasure trove of data. Amazon’s own injury data for about 150 fulfillment centers going back four years.
Al Letson:That’s huge. I mean that must have been pretty risky for that person.
Will Evans:Yeah, thank you to that person, whoever you are at there. I can’t even talk about it very much because I don’t want to put them at more risk.
Al Letson:So you spent months trying to get those records, warehouse by warehouse. And suddenly, you got it all. What was it like for you to be staring at all those numbers?
Will Evans:It’s kind of nerdy but it was very exciting. It was thrilling. I mean what they showed was awful but what was exciting was that I could finally compare what Amazon was telling me and telling the public to what their own data showed?
Al Letson:And what did the new data show?
Will Evans:Well it showed that Amazon had an injury crisis. It was getting better, it was getting worse. The rate of serious injuries was double the industry average. And it also showed that Amazon wasn’t telling the truth about its safety record.
Al Letson:What do you mean?
Will Evans:Well, for example, in that first story, Amazon told me that injury rates don’t go up during peak shopping times like the holidays. They said that they stay flat or even go down. But the records showed it was the exact opposite. They spike. So what they were saying was just false. And then there’s the robots.
Al Letson:Robots. So tell me about the robots?
Will Evans:Amazon uses robots to make the warehouses as efficient as possible. They help things speed up. And the humans have to work side by side with them and they have to keep up. So the safety manager I talked to said, “Humans were actually losing that battle.” Have the robots the humans past their limits?
Speaker 9:Yeah. Man, humans are tapping out.
Will Evans:But Amazon kept saying that robots were good for safety. They were good for their workers.
Speaker 9:And what did the data show?
Will Evans:Well it showed that what Amazon was saying was wrong. I mean injury rates were higher at warehouses with robots, they were worse. Because remember Amazon uses the robots to ratchet up the pace and speed leads to injuries.

So we totaled up all the numbers for all the Amazon fulfillment centers. And the one at the top with the highest injury rate at the time was a robotic one. And it turned out it wasn’t far from Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. So we wanted to know what was going on there so I talked to Austin Wendt.
Austin Wendt:They said safety is the priority, but it was very prevalent that safety was second to productivity.
Will Evans:He used to have a job monitoring injuries and giving first aid at that warehouse in Dupont, Washington. And he said he saw them try some interesting things in the name of safety, like pizza parties for groups of workers if there weren’t any injuries for a while.
Austin Wendt:Pretty much how I saw it is they were offering rewards for not reporting injuries because you’re cornering people like you’re going to piss off 49 other people if they were two hours away from getting pizza and you got injured and now they don’t get pizza.
Al Letson:I mean no one wants to stand in the way of their colleagues getting pizza.
Will Evans:Exactly, I want some pizza. But beyond pizza parties, Amazon wouldn’t do the one thing Austin said could really make a difference.
Austin Wendt:In the end, I don’t think it’s that hard of an issue. It’s lower the rate.
Will Evans:In other words, slow it down.
Al Letson:So does Amazon just get away with all of this?
Will Evans:Well it seemed like it for a while, but things are changing.
Speaker 11:Please put your hands together Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales.
Will Evans:In California, Lorena Gonzales introduced a bill last year to regulate the work quotas in warehouses. It was aimed at Amazon. And it was prompted, in part, by our reporting.
Lorena Gonazles:It’s time that we value workers enough to say, “You don’t deserve to lose your livelihood or lose your body on a job. And to be continually pushed to go faster and faster and faster.”
Will Evans:And last fall, her bill passed. It was the first law of its kind.
Al Letson:So what does the law do?
Will Evans:Well it says companies can’t force workers to hit quotas that prevent them from doing stuff like going to the bathroom or doing their job safely. Workers can even sue to overturn unsafe quotas. And there are similar bills that have been proposed in other states like Minnesota and New York.
Al Letson:And what does Amazon have to say about all this?
Will Evans:Well Amazon said no to an interview with us as usual. But in general, the company says they don’t have quotas. They have what they call performance expectations. And they say those don’t conflict with safety.
Al Letson:Performance expectations, that sounds like corporate speak for quotas.
Will Evans:Yeah.
Al Letson:Aren’t there government safety agencies that are supposed to deal with this?
Will Evans:Well yeah, there are. But for a long time, they didn’t do much about this. But that’s also starting to change. So remember that warehouse in Washington with the highest injury rates? The one with the pizza parties?

Well after our report, the state safety agency inspected it and they issued a groundbreaking safety citation.
Al Letson:Why was that a big deal?
Will Evans:Regulators said that Amazon was violating the law by pressuring workers to work so fast they get hurt. They found a direct connection between the pace of work and the injuries. And they said the company has to change.

And as obvious as that sounds given our reporting, it’s the first time that happened and it didn’t stop there. Amazon didn’t fix the problem so those safety regulators, they kept coming back. So far they’ve fined them $81,000 which doesn’t sound like much to a company the size of Amazon.

But what they’re saying is really important. Amazon disputes all that and is appealing the citations and we don’t really know how it’ll all end up.
Al Letson:So what about the injury numbers that you worked so hard to track down? Is that data still secret?
Will Evans:No, that’s another big development. Reveal’s bad ass legal team led by the one and only Vickie Baranetsky actually sued the federal government arguing that the injury numbers that companies report to the government should be public.

The government fought back saying, “No. These records are confidential.” But a federal judge agreed with us and ordered the government to cough it up so we won.
Al Letson:That’s amazing. But not totally surprising because Vickie Baranetsky is a force of nature, but a huge win.
Will Evans:Exactly yeah. It’s exciting because it’s a big win for holding companies accountable and hopefully, eventually improving working conditions.
Al Letson:So does that mean anyone can get this data?
Will Evans:Yeah. Now the government released the injury numbers for hundreds of thousands of workplaces around the country. And we’ve actually been training reporters on how to find stories in all the data.
Byard Duncan:Thank you guys so much for coming today. This is the kick off of Reveal’s Worker Injuries reporting network.
Al Letson:I know that voice. That sounds like Byard.
Will Evans:Yep, that’s our former colleague, Byard Duncan, leading off a webinar we did for local reporters.
Byard Duncan:What you all are after is what Will can talk about in depth about which is this big trail of workplace injury data that is now public record and that is quite interesting.
Will Evans:And it’s already led to some local reporting using that data.
Al Letson:Okay so does this data that’s now public say about Amazon today?
Will Evans:A coalition of labor unions crunched the most recent numbers and they found that Amazon’s injury rates which had gone done in 2020 went up again last year. So they got worse. And that the rate of serious injuries was more than double the rate for non-Amazon warehouses.
Al Letson:And is Amazon talking about this?
Will Evans:Well yeah actually, the issue has really gained traction since we first started reporting on it. And Amazon has had to deal with it. They’ve had to address it. The new CEO, Andy Jassy, got asked about that union analysis of the injury numbers on CNBC last month.
Andy Jassy:Well, look, there’s a lot of ways you can spin the safety data.
Will Evans:So this is his spin. He says Amazon’s injuries are a little bit higher than average for warehousing and a little lower than average for other job categories so one cancels out the other.
Andy Jassy:So we’re about average which, frankly, I take no solace in. We don’t aspire to be average. We are trying to be the best in the industry. And it’s why we’re spending … We spent about $300 million dollars on safety last year alone. We have about 8000 people who are just working safety. And we’re trying all sorts of things and working-
Will Evans:Things like sophisticated algorithms to predict when workers should rotate jobs and wearables that send signals when they detect workers a dangerous movement. And new shoes to protect those toes.
Al Letson:But nothing about actually slowing down the pace of work?
Will Evans:No, which is not that surprising because it really cuts to the heart of Amazon’s model. Amazon has succeeded by getting things to people faster and faster and by pushing workers to go faster and faster to make that happen.
Al Letson:So where does that leave us?
Will Evans:Well there’s this building pressure of Amazon to deal with its workplace practices. It’s come from regulators, from lawmakers, from the workers themselves. This new union has been pushing for things that could make workers safer like longer breaks and more reasonable quotas.

There’s even a shareholder proposal up for a vote next week that cites our reporting and calls for an independent audit of working conditions.

So it remains to be seen whether all that pressure will keep growing and growing and eventually cause Amazon to make some serious changes. Will more warehouses vote to unionize or not? Will more states crack down? We’ll have to see.
Al Letson:Thanks for all your reporting on this, Will.
Will Evans:Thank you, Al.
Al Letson:That was Reveal’s Will Evans. Our story was produced by Katharine Mieszkowski. The safety regulators are now paying closer attention to injuries at Amazon warehouses. But it made us wonder why they weren’t paying close attention all along. In a moment, the story of how the federal government decided to regulate the most common type of workplace injury then changed its mind. You’re listening to Reveal.
Nadia Hamdan:Hi you all. My name is Nadia Hamdan and I’m a producer here at Reveal. Reveal is a nonprofit news organization and we depend on support from our listeners. Donate today at revealnews.org/donate. And thanks.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. At Amazon fulfillment centers, most of the on the job injuries come from back ergonomics. They’re caused by repetition. Working in awkward positions or putting strain on the bodies. And they’re a huge problem in other industries too.

Hotel maids, whose backs are blown out from decades of lifting mattresses to change sheets. Poultry workers with chronic nerve damage from hanging 10,000 chickens headed for slaughter each day.

OSHA requires companies to protect workers from common injuries in all kinds of industries from construction to logging, but there’s no federal rule to protect workers from ergonomic injuries.

To understand why, we’re bringing back a story from Reveal’s Jenn Gollan that begins back in time.
Jennifer Gollan:Actually, you have to go way back to the year 2000. The movie, Gladiator, is huge. Everyone is watching the TV show, Survivor and there is this famous Budweiser commercial.
Speaker 17:Budweiser. Budweiser. Budweiser.
Jennifer Gollan:That’s around the time when Davonda Rodgers started working at Budweiser running quality control tests on the beer.
Davonda Rodgers:We’re testing it for iron. We’re testing it for ammonia. We’re testing it for different bacterias to ensure that it’s safe for the public all around.
Jennifer Gollan:Seven days a week for 13 years Davonda did small controlled hand motions, swirling flasks, holding shaking centrifuges. Budweiser’s testing instructions always ended with-
Davonda Rodgers:Repeat it again, repeat it again to ensure that we’re getting the same results.
Jennifer Gollan:Davonda started to notice something about her hands. Her fingertips started going numb, then came intense pain from her neck down to her wrist. One day she walked on to the factory floor and grabbed a case of beer for testing.
Davonda Rodgers:And I dropped the case. At that point, I thought I was going to pass out. I went down on one knee and I just thought a bolt of lightning hit me.
Jennifer Gollan:Davonda saw doctors who told her she had carpal tunnel that was work related. Physical therapy helped relieve the pressure on the nerve in her hand, but when Davonda returned to work, the pain always rushed back. It got to the point where she couldn’t unscrew a water bottle cap. She filed a worker’s compensation claim against Anheuser Busch, the company that owns Budweiser.

The next year she says they fired her for being unable to keep up with her job. Then when her daughter was an infant, this happened.
Davonda Rodgers:I picked her up and she hit the floor. And I will never forget that scream. And that look that she gave me, it was a look of I can’t believe you just dropped me and she was screaming.
Jennifer Gollan:She kept fighting Anheuser Busch for worker’s comp. But Davonda says company managers refused to accept that her injury was work related. We asked Anheuser Busch for an interview and sent them specific questions about Davonda’s case but the never responded.

There were no government regulations to protect Davonda, but what she didn’t know was right around the time she started working, there almost were.
Eric Frumin:Most American workers had no ability to stop bosses from abusing them with dangerous workloads. The unions were fed up. Workers in other industries were fed up. And we finally the ability to set those limits.
Jennifer Gollan:That’s Eric Frumin. He’s a health and safety director for unions. He represented Garmin and warehouse workers and he was a voice pushing for ergonomics protections. And President Clinton’s labor department, they were listening.
Speaker 20:We are compelled to act. Employees are getting hurt. Workers are being sent home. People are suffering. It’s time for OSHA to move on.
Jennifer Gollan:There was a lot of momentum behind the rule which would have forced companies to limit how much workers could lift, bend or twist. And how many time they did the same task. It was a decade in the making and one of the last steps in the process was a series of hearing for public comment.

That’s when a team of lawyers representing Anheuser Busch, hundreds of other companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce descended on the Capitol.
Speaker 21:I would think that it would be a very good idea if no one sits in those first couple of seats in the first row. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting run over by an attorney rushing to get to the podium.
Jennifer Gollan:This is a hearing room in Washington D.C. in 2000. It looks like an auditorium for a school play except with a judge and bunch of OSHA bureaucrats sitting on the stage behind a long draped table.
Speaker 21:See the gentleman, I think, here in the third or fourth row had his hand up?
Jennifer Gollan:The gentleman in the third or fourth row was one of the lawyers representing Anheuser Busch and the others.
Eugene Scalia:Just one minute. I have an audio visual item.
Jennifer Gollan:He awkwardly carries a white board out of the darkness and onto the stage. He tries making a joke about back injuries.
Eugene Scalia:I’m not going to ask you about my lifting technique.
Speaker 21:Okay.
Jennifer Gollan:He returns to the podium at the foot of the stage and gathers his papers.
Eugene Scalia:I’m Eugene Scalia. I’m representing several clients in this rule making including the Rubbermaid-
Jennifer Gollan:He’s a slender, 30 something guy with dark, intense eyes.
Eugene Scalia:If I could begin, and I’ll direct my questions to Ms. Kent.
Jennifer Gollan:Oh yeah, and he happened to be the son of a siting Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia. He launches into a cross examination like you’d see in Law and Order.
Eugene Scalia:If a physician said that that employee needs to sharply curtail activity for a period of time, would you regard that view as wacky?
Jennifer Gollan:Even though there was a lot of science to support ergonomic protections from things like repetitive motions or assembly lines that move too fast, Scalia attacked it. He called it “junk science”. Baruch Fellner was Scalia’s teammate at these hearings.
Baruch Fellner:The one thing that this country and that no workplace can afford is for some scientists to stuck a finger up in the air with a wet part and say, “Oh, this is where science is going.”
Jennifer Gollan:For the scientists, it was rattling. What’s the emotion that comes to mind when you think of that experience?
Bob Harrison:Intimidating. This was tough cross examination.
Jennifer Gollan:Bob Harrison was a researcher and doctor who treated injured workers. He remembers Scalia grilling the scientists at the hearings, interrupting them as soon as they got into any detail, saying things like, “I don’t think I’ll permit you to waste my time in that way. And evidently you think that’s a silly exercise.”
Bob Harrison:It’s a well practiced attempt that I now understand to doubt myself and doubt my own credibility and research as a doctor and a scientist.
Jennifer Gollan:Scalia had another tactic he used to cast doubt on the connection between repetitive motion and ergonomic injuries.
Bob Harrison:So you if have 95 papers that show there’s a link and five papers that show that there’s not a link, it’s pretty easy to make hay out of the five papers that show there’s not a link.
Jennifer Gollan:Not only did Scalia tear into the science, he went after regulators, drilling OSHA’s experts with hypotheticals. At a House subcommittee hearing, Scalia says, “A worker could hurt himself playing football on the weekend.” Eric Frumin was sitting right next to Scalia when he said that.
Eric Frumin:You would think that a lobbyist of that stature working for one of the largest law firms in the country with extraordinary access to corporate resources would have been able to find an example of that if it existed. And run it up the flagpole and bring in the papers from the contested workers’ comp hearing where the employer had the photographs of Johnny Jones playing football on Sunday and then coming into work on Monday and reporting an injury, signing it and the employer fighting that all the way to Court of Appeals in the state of God knows where and the judges saying to the employer, “You’re wrong. This guy’s entitled to comp.”

Except he didn’t. And he never tried to bring the facts to the bear. He was just good at peddling fear.
Jennifer Gollan:As good as Scalia and his team were in doing that, late in 2000-
Bob Schiefer:Government guidelines aimed at making the workplace ergonomically correct.
Jennifer Gollan:The Clinton Administration enacted the ergonomic rules.
Speaker 26:Which would affect all workers except those who are self employed or in the agricultural-
Jennifer Gollan:Unions were thrilled.
Eric Frumin:Well it was great that we won. This was the set of rules that were going to free American workers from abusive workloads. Give people the feeling, blue collar workers, manual workers, low wage workers that the government actually could do something for them.
Jennifer Gollan:Or could it?
Doris:I guess it’s possible for the country to have such a division as they do.
Tom Brokaw:Stop, stop, Doris, Doris, Doris, Doris, Doris.
Doris:Uh-oh something’s happened.
Tom Brokaw:George Bush is the President elect of the United States. He has won the state of Florida according to our projections.
Speaker 29:Called it.
Jennifer Gollan:After one of the closest presidential races in U.S. history, George W. Bush and not Al Gore moved into the White House and Republicans took Congress. Within months, ergonomics were being debated again.
Speaker 30:The clerk will read the joint resolution for the third time.
Speaker 31:Senate joint resolution six providing for Congressional disapproval of the rules submitted-
Jennifer Gollan:And this time they dusted off a little known law called the Congressional Review Act. It lets Congress take a second look at any rule made by a federal agency and vote on it.
Speaker 32:Mr. Johnson, no. Mr. Bond? Mr. Bond, aye. Mr. Lieberman? Mr. Lieberman, no.
Jennifer Gollan:Everyone in labor and in industry was watching.
Eric Frumin:Yeah, I was at my office both days in New York. I guess I was watching it on CSPAN.
Speaker 33:The yays are 56, the nays are 44 and Senate Joint Resolution Six has passed.
Jennifer Gollan:The ergonomics rule was repealed. How were you feeling at that moment? Did you have-
Eric Frumin:Heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken.
Jennifer Gollan:Did you remember what you did in those moments after it failed?
Eric Frumin:I probably went out and got a drink or something. I was pretty miserable.
Jennifer Gollan:It was the first time a regulation had been repealed this way. And here’s the other thing about the Congressional Review Act. Once a regulation is overturned, agencies are forbidden from writing another one like it. In the end, Scalia won and he quickly vaulted into government.

Not long after, he was nominated Labor Solicitor, which is the Labor Department’s chief lawyer. They play a major role in enforcing many federal labor laws and developing rules. At his confirmation hearing, Senator John Edwards had a simple question for Scalia.
Sen. John Edwar…:Would you agree that one of your responsibilities for this position that you’ve been nominated for would be to represent the laborers, the working people around America?
Eugene Scalia:My responsibility would be to represent the government of the United States and enforce the laws.
Jennifer Gollan:I show of that moment to Eric Frumin.
Eric Frumin:It took him seven seconds to figure out that was his answer and never once did he mention lifting up America’s workers.
Jennifer Gollan:Then in 2019, Scalia became Secretary of Labor during the Trump Administration.
Mike Pence:Place your left hand on the bible, raise your right hand, repeat after me. I, Eugene Scalia, do solemnly swear.
Eugene Scalia:I, Eugene Scalia, do solemnly swear.
Jennifer Gollan:Under Scalia, the number of workplace safety inspectors dropped significantly. And despite the dangers of COVID-19, the Labor Department didn’t issue any federal rules to limit the virus’ spread among workers.

Soon after Scalia left his job as Labor Secretary in 2021, OSHA issued stronger COVID-19 guidance for workers. When we first reported this story back in 2020, I had wanted to talk to Scalia about COVID in the workplace and his work fighting the ergonomics rule. But his office never got back to me.

The Biden Administration has pledged make worker safety a priority, but when it comes to comprehensive national ergonomics standard, its hands are tied because of the Congressional Review Act.

As for Davonda Rodgers, the Anheuser Busch worker, she has crippling pain from her neck to her hands. These days she’s on disability and can’t work. She takes eight different pills a day for pain and depression. When I tell her the story of the ergonomics battle, her reaction is-
Davonda Rodgers:Wow.
Jennifer Gollan:What do you think that says about our nation that there are no rules around ergonomics?
Davonda Rodgers:It puts profit above people, just plain and simple. Just work you to death until there’s nothing left.
Jennifer Gollan:“And when workers have nothing left,” she says, “Families struggle too.”
Davonda Rodgers:When you don’t address that issue and tackle it head on, you cut the life expectancy of that person being at that particular company very short and it causes a strong impact financially. It causes stress. The family doesn’t function as well as it could because now they’re worried about, oh my goodness what’s going to happen if mommy or daddy loses this job. They’ve got to do something to get ahead of this now.
Al Letson:That story from Reveal’s Jennifer Gollan. The death of the ergonomic rule 20 years ago had a domino effect. Some states tried passing similar regulations but failed. Only California has ergonomic rules on the books.

Back when Budweiser was fighting ergonomic regulations, it was selling beer using ads in commercials. These days, online reviews have become important to sales, but should we believe them?
Kay Dean:The reviews read like advertisements to me. There was common language through many of the reviews.
Al Letson:That’s next on Reveal.
Speaker 37:Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program to bring you a special bulletin.
Jim Briggs:From the Center for Investigative Reporting, this is Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda. We’re the sound designers behind Reveal.
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Jim Briggs:Thanks for listening.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Whether you’re shopping on Amazon or looking for a good restaurant, chances are you’re going to check what the online reviews say. Consumers like them and so do businesses.

One marketing firm found that companies with a 3.5 to 4.5 star rating on Yelp saw their revenue jump by almost a third. Kay Dean lives in the San Francisco Bay area. She turned to Yelp when she was looking for a doctor. She was struggling with anxiety and depression and came across Savant Care, a group of clinics based in California.

It accepted her insurance and had fantastic reviews on Yelp. Kay was sold. But her first appointment didn’t go so well. She says the support staff in India lost her paperwork and she felt the psychiatrist was distracted during heir session so Kay left a less than glowing review on Yelp. That’s when the trouble started. She says Savant threatened her with legal action if she didn’t take her review down.
Kay Dean:And then when they started to call me, to harass me over my review, I developed worse anxiety, but also insomnia which I hadn’t had before.
Al Letson:Kay fought back. Took Savant Care to court and won. End of story, right? Well not quite. The whole experience left Kay suspicious about the world of online reviews. She started digging and eventually reached to reporter, Laura Sydell who covers the tech world. Today’s we’re re-visiting a story Laura first brought us in 2020.
Laura Sydell:Kay?
Kay Dean:Yes, hi.
Laura Sydell:I’m at Kay’s home. A large ranch house in a suburb of San Jose where she lives with her husband, a retired Coast Guard officer. Inside documents and folders are piled high on the dining room table. Oh good, you have stacks of papers of here.
Kay Dean:Oh that’s just the sum of it. No, I’m looking at the documents every day.
Laura Sydell:Kay spent years as a federal investigator. And you can hear it in her voice. Dispassionate sort of just the facts ma’am style.
Kay Dean:I worked as a special agent for the U.S.’s Department of Education Inspector General’s office on fraud cases.
Laura Sydell:Kay left that job to raise her children. After her terrible experience with the psychiatrist at Savant Care, she couldn’t understand how the company could have so many positive reviews. So she took a closer look.
Kay Dean:The reviews read like advertisements to me. There was common language through many of their reviews.
Laura Sydell:Kay noticed that some of the reviewers had used full names so she Googled them.
Kay Dean:And I landed in Facebook groups. And I was just astonished at what I was seeing.
Laura Sydell:Kay showed me what she was seeing. Tens of thousands of people buying, selling and exchanging reviews. There were the people who write the reviews, businesses that post the reviews and another layer of brokers and middlemen. It was an entire marketplace for fake reviews, all on Facebook, with posts like this:
Kay Dean:Who needs strong Yelp reviews? I have 20 plus elite friends in California and 300 real Yelpers ready.
Laura Sydell:To Kay, it appeared like pieces of a puzzle. She couldn’t quite figure out how to put together. Kay reached out to Yelp, Facebook and to law enforcement. But no one seemed interested in following up. So she drew on her skills as a fraud investigator.

She joined 37 of these Facebook groups and that’s just a fraction of the total number. Once inside, Kay says she found all kinds of businesses trying to barter for or buy reviews. Real estate agents, child care workers, lawyers, dentists, burger joints and more medical doctors.
Kay Dean:Here she is. “Hi, I’m Janet, PM me.”
Laura Sydell:This Kay reading from a post she found on a Facebook group called the California Yelp Google Facebook Review Exchange. It’s from an L.A. dermatologist, named Dr. Janet Vafaie.

Kay says she found Dr. Vafaie had solicited dozens of fake reviews through Facebook and had high ratings on Yelp and Google. But I find some negative reviews. A woman named Megan O’Neill says, “She didn’t feel her health was a priority throughout her appointment with Dr. Vafaie.”

I decide to contact Megan on Yelp and she agrees to talk. It turns out Megan has a history of skin cancer. She tells me that after moving to L.A. in 2020, she started looking for a doctor. She went online to look at reviews on Yelp and Google.
Megan O’Neill:I wanted to see a female dermatologist and Dr. Vafaie had probably two to three times more recommendations or reviews than any other doctor in the area so that was a really big reason why I chose her and why I was excited for that initial appointment.
Laura Sydell:But when she showed Dr. Vafaie the spots on her scalp-
Megan O’Neill:She called it pre, pre, pre-cancerous which I felt as really condescending because I’ve never had a doctor treat something pre-cancerous so trivially before.
Laura Sydell:On top of that, Megan says Dr. Vafaie tried to sell her $2000 of skin creams largely from her personal product line. Megan was furious and she didn’t trust Vafaie’s opinion.

It took her months to see another specialist because her insurance wouldn’t pay. Finally, she learned from another doctor that the spots were pre-cancerous. After all that, Megan says, “She’ll never trust online reviews again.”
Megan O’Neill:It’s one thing if you’re a restaurant trying to claim you have the best cheesecake in town, but when it has to do with someone in the medical field that could have serious consequences on someone’s health, that’s really quite scary and it’s something I probably wouldn’t trust again.
Laura Sydell:I call and even visit Dr. Vafaie’s office. But she won’t agree to talk to me about what happened with Megan. I decide to tackle this from a different angle. With Kay Dean’s help, I find a person who wrote a fake review for Dr. Vafaie and who we could trace back to the Facebook groups.

She’s reluctant to talk because posting fake reviews is illegal. But she finally agrees to so long as I only use her first name, Tiffany. We meet at a Starbucks in downtown Santa Cruz where she’s a college student.

Tiffany tells me she started out writing real reviews on Yelp. In fact, she wrote so many she earned Yelp’s elite status for its most trusted reviewers. She was living on an especially tight budget-
Tiffany:It was the summer and I didn’t really get an internship like I wanted to and I just needed extra money.
Laura Sydell:And Tiffany soon discovered her Yelp elite status was the key to making some cash. She was on Facebook hoping to meet other elites.
Tiffany:That’s what I was thinking at first. And then I found Yelp Exchange and that’s when I was interested because I saw someone posted $50 to $100 per reviews and then I was instantly interested.
Laura Sydell:Tiffany says someone recruited her to write a fake review for Dr. Vafaie. She figured that’s easy.
Tiffany:I go to med spas and that’s something I’m familiar with so when I reviewed it, I just thought oh this is something I would do. I would get a facial here. I would get my skin laser treatments here.
Laura Sydell:Tiffany was paid $47.50 for the fake review. When I tell her about Megan O’Neill’s experience with Dr. Vafaie, the $2000 skin cream she recommended, her failure to see pre-cancerous spots on Megan’s scalp, Tiffany seems remorseful.
Tiffany:I hope this all ends.
Laura Sydell:You feel a little guilty about it.
Tiffany:Yeah, I didn’t think it would harm anyone until all you told me like someone got harmed by it.
Laura Sydell:Yelp finally caught Tiffany and closed her account, but only after she’d made hundreds of dollars writing fake reviews. Not bad for a few hours of work.

Before we part, Tiffany shows me records of the payment for the Dr. Vafaie review. The money was wired by someone in Auckland, New Zealand. It turns out a lot of the companies that pay for fake reviews are outside the U.S.

The secret marketplace that Kay Dean discovered involved business owners exchanging reviews among themselves and also buying them from brokers who pay people like Tiffany.

I want to speak with one of these brokers and I found one. He agrees to talk as long as I don’t use his real name because brokering fake reviews is also against the law. So I’ll call him N.

I meet N at a coffee shop in a strip mall about 45 minutes from L.A. He tells me he fell into buying, selling, and trading reviews a few years ago while he was getting his MBA. Initially he says he just wanted to start a legal marketing business.
N:At first it started out with just doing Facebook advertisement, Google advertisement. However, as you get to meet more local businesses and trying to get clients, you realize that they need assistance with Yelp.
Laura Sydell:What was it that they were saying when you said they need assistance with Yelp? What were they saying?
N:They needed to get more exposure. They wanted more traffic. They wanted to be a winner on Yelp.
Laura Sydell:So it’s a numbers game. And N says many businesses feel they have no choice but to play along. There’s even a term for this industry of fake reviews. Black hat marketing. N found workers to write the reviews really easily, college students like Tiffany.
N:This is the norm. This the norm of the information age. If a college student is broke enough like we are in today with America being in student loan debt and all that, I think college students will find a way to make extra cash on the side. And this is an easy way to make cash on the side.
Laura Sydell:Before he had a lot of his own reviews, N says he would write fake reviews himself. There’s one of his reviews I want to discuss. N posted a review on Savant Care’s website. The psychiatrist practice that harassed Kay Dean. I show N the review. So this review, I just want to confirm just because it’s … This is a fake review. You never went to Savant Care?
N:Mm-hmm. It was for an exchange I done a while back.
Laura Sydell:N says he doesn’t have a record of who contacted him from Savant Care. But he says it’s common practice for businesses to help out with the review. Restaurants might provide a picture of the food. Dermatologists might offer up before and after skin pictures.

These details are more likely to fool consumers and also Yelp’s and Google’s algorithms. These algorithms screen for common signs of fake reviews.

No one is certain about the scale of all the fakery. Companies like Yelp, Google and Facebook say they spend vast amounts of money on those algorithms designed to weed out fraud. But with millions of new reviews posted each day, even if they miss a small fraction of fakes, that could still mean a lot of fraudulent reviews make it through.

In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission or FTC enforces federal laws against online review fraud. But it’s faced criticism for its lax penalties. In one case, it found a skin care company guilty of ordering its own employees to write fake reviews.

But the only penalty was a promise not to do it again. FTC Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter criticized her own agency for being to soft.
Rebecca Slaught…:I think we really need to push for remedies that will send a meaningful message that the behavior we’re looking at is against the law and violating the law is going to come with costs that outweigh the benefits to the business of engaging in the violation.
Laura Sydell:Unfortunately platforms like Google, Yelp and Facebook don’t have to take down fake reviews. That’s because they don’t bear legal responsibility for most of what gets posted on their sites.

I mentioned earlier that Kay Dean had notified Facebook, Yelp and Google about the evidence she compiled of rampant fraud going back as far as 2017.

Nothing happened. It was only after I contacted Yelp that they posted alerts on Savant Care and the five dermatology websites through a program they claimed had already been in the works.

Soon after, I went to the offices of Yelp in downtown San Francisco to meet with Vince Sollitto. He’s their top PR guy. I ask him why Yelp didn’t respond to Kay’s initial evidence against Savant Care. So how does she end up not feeling and how do users who have an experience like hers end up not feeling like when they reach out to you they’re just sending information into a black hole?
Vince Sollitto:Well that’s certainly not the case. For the majority of users and in this case I’ll have to investigate further, but when consumers contact us with information, we act upon it.
Laura Sydell:I show him the Facebook groups and other materials Kay assembled indicting a massive marketplace for fake reviews. She has figured out literally hundreds of businesses right now engaged in fake reviews.

She’s one woman. You have teams of people. She tried to alert you. Given that this one woman did this and you have all this software and all these people, I have to ask you seriously why should people trust Yelp as a source for honest reviews?
Vince Sollitto:Because the vast majority of reviews that are being submitted by consumers are honest to goodness first hand experiences. And of the 20 million businesses or so that are on the platform, the vast majority are good actors. And we use every means at our disposal to protect the integrity of our content.

It’s not perfect and we certainly investigate and do the best we can. But we do believe it’s the best out there.
Laura Sydell:Sollitto repeats this answer over and over. “We’re not perfect, but we’re the best.” He’s like a cul de sac he can’t get out of so he keeps going round and round. I literally counted probably about 30,000 members to groups on Facebook right now buying, selling, exchanging reviews. What’s going on here? Why so many of these groups on Facebook have continued to exist for years?
Vince Sollitto:Well you’ll have to ask Facebook that. We’ve certainly tried to work with them in the past to remove groups that are engaging in this behavior. And to be fair, in years past when we’ve alerted them to these groups, they’ve taken them down. But obviously, it’s not nearly as much of a priority for them as it is for us.
Laura Sydell:A few weeks after meeting with Yelp, another spokesperson followed up with me about Kay’s complaint with Savant Care. She said that the team did the best they could with the evidence they had at the time.

I also contacted Facebook and Google and they removed several accounts for violating their terms of service. But neither company would agree to a recorded interview to explain all the fraud they missed. Kay Dean says, “She has no faith in any of these companies and doesn’t think anyone should.”
Kay Dean:We can’t count on big tech to be policing themselves. Yelp and Facebook and Google, they’re all profiting from this activity on the sites and they don’t have really incentive to take serious action. Prosecutors and regulators, they’re not policing these sites either. And so I just want to get the word out.
Laura Sydell:In case you’re wondering, some countries are looking at more aggressive action. The United Kingdom is considering rules that would make it illegal to pay someone to write a fake review or to host them without taking reasonable steps to make sure the reviews are genuine.

Under the plan, the government can punish with violators with penalties of up to 10% of a company’s profits.

In the U.S. similar action is unlikely. So consumers are even more on their own, sorting out what’s true and what’s false online.

In the days before the internet made it possible to leave a review, we relied on the words of someone we know or we looked at ads knowing that’s what they were. In the current climate, it may be wiser to view online reviews as just another kind of ad.
Al Letson:That story was from Laura Sydell. Our lead producer for this show is Katharine Mieszkowski. She had help from Chris Harland-Dunaway.  Taki Telonidis and Michael Montgomery edited the show.

Thanks to editors Andrew Donohue, Esther Kaplan and Sue Oh. Also Rachel de Leon and Melissa Lewis. Victoria Baranetsky is our General Counsel. Our fact checker is Nikki Frick. Our production manager is Amy the Great Mostafa. Original score and sound design by the dynamic duo, J. Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando my man, yo Arruda.

Our post production team is the Justice League. And this week includes Jess Alvarenga, Steven Rascon and Kathryn Styer Martinez. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our CEO is Kaizar Campwala. Sumi Aggarwal is our Editor in Chief and our Executive Producer is Kevin Sullivan.

Our theme music is by Camarado Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. And Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the In As Much Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson. And remember there is always more to the story.
Speaker 47:From PRX.

Will Evans is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal, covering labor and tech. His reporting has prompted government investigations, legislation, reforms and prosecutions. A series on working conditions at Amazon warehouses was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and won a Gerald Loeb Award. His work has also won multiple Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, including for a series on safety problems at Tesla. Other investigations have exposed secret spying at Uber, illegal discrimination in the temp industry and rampant fraud in California's drug rehab system for the poor. Prior to joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2005, Evans was a reporter at The Sacramento Bee. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jennifer Gollan

Jennifer Gollan is an award-winning reporter. Her investigation When Abusers Keep Their Guns, which exposed how perpetrators often kill their intimate partners with guns they possess unlawfully, spurred sweeping provisions in federal law that greatly expanded the power of local and state police and prosecutors to crack down on abusers with illegal firearms. The project won a 2022 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and has been nominated for a 2022 Emmy Award.

Gollan also has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to shoddy tire manufacturing practices that kill motorists. Her series on rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry, Caregivers and Takers, prompted a congressional hearing and a statewide enforcement sweep in California to recover workers’ wages. Another investigation – focused on how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured on the job – led to tightened federal oversight of contractors’ safety violations.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian US and Politico Magazine, as well as on PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera English’s “Fault Lines” program. Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing awards. Gollan is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She's also been a senior writer for Salon and Fast Company. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Slate and on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Her coverage has won national awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award two years in a row, an Online News Association Award, a Webby Award and a Society of Environmental Journalists Award. Mieszkowski has a bachelor's degree from Yale University. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Chris Harland-Dunaway

Chris Harland-Dunaway is a freelance reporter and radio producer. His investigative reporting has appeared on Reveal, The Verge, PRI’s The World, and WHYY’s The Pulse.

Taki Telonidis is an interim executive producer for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Michael Montgomery

Michael Montgomery is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. He has led collaborations with the Associated Press, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Frontline, KQED and others.

Previously, Montgomery was a senior reporter at American Public Media, a special correspondent for the BBC and an associate producer with CBS News. He began his career in eastern Europe, covering the fall of communism and wars in former Yugoslavia for the Daily Telegraph and Los Angeles Times. His investigations into human rights abuses in the Balkans led to the arrest and conviction of Serbian and Albanian paramilitaries and creation of a new war crimes court based in The Hague. Montgomery’s honors include Murrow, Peabody, IRE, duPont, Third Coast and Overseas Press Club awards. He is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Najib Aminy is a producer for Reveal. Previously, he was an editor at Flipboard, a news aggregation startup, and helped guide the company’s editorial and curation practices and policies. Before that, he spent time reporting for newspapers such as Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. He is the host and producer of an independent podcast, "Some Noise," which is based out of Oakland, California, and was featured by Apple, The Guardian and The Paris Review. He is a lifelong New York Knicks fan, has a soon-to-be-named kitten and is a product of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Aminy is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.