Senators slam Amazon over 'intolerable' warehouse conditions

A coalition of senators called on Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to address high rates of work-related injuries at the company’s massive warehouse facilities, saying they were concerned the tech giant had focused more on profits than its “own workers’ safety and health.”

In a letter sent Monday to Bezos, the group of 15 Democratic and independent lawmakers said they were troubled by reports of bleak conditions inside Amazon facilities. In November, The Atlantic and the Center for Investigative Reporting published an investigation documenting high injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers around the country — in some locations more than double the national average for the warehousing industry.

“Any practice that puts profits before worker safety is unacceptable,” the group, led by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), wrote. The letter included signatures from two current presidential candidates: Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). 

The call comes amid ongoing reports of bleak conditions inside Amazon facilities. The Atlantic and Reveal’s story detailed accounts of workers being discouraged from leaving a facility during a gas leak and another where an employee that was crushed to death at a warehouse in Indiana wasn’t found for nearly two hours. A separate report found Amazon employees were three times more likely to get injured at work than at other private employers.

“These reports make clear that by placing such a priority on speed and quota fulfillment, your company requires employees to risk their safety and health to perform and keep their jobs,” the Senators wrote. “The safety of workers should come first.” 

Amazon said in a statement Monday that “nothing is more important to us than the safety and well-being of our employees.” It said the high figures were the result of an aggressive reporting policy for any injury, and it urged lawmakers to tour its facilities.

“OSHA is on the record as saying that underreporting of injuries is an industry-wide problem, and companies do this to keep their rates low — a former assistant secretary of OSHA estimated that 50 percent or more of severe injuries go unreported,” the company said in a statement to Recode. “Amazon does the opposite; we take an aggressive stance on recording injuries no matter how big or small.”

Despite the assurances, Sanders noted Monday that the troubling conditions come as Amazon continues to grow, enriching Bezos and driving the company’s value to more than $1 trillion dollars.

“Workers there should not be 3 times more likely to be injured on the job,” Sanders wrote on Twitter. “Bathroom breaks should not be considered ‘time off task.’ Amazon’s warehouse conditions are intolerable.”

The lawmakers urged Bezos to address a bevy of concerns, including lower workers’ quotas and speed requirements, allowing employees to use the bathroom as needed and crafting programs that allow warehouse employees to raise safety and health concerns. The also urged the company to publish a record of serious injuries. 

“We urge you to overhaul this profit-at-all costs culture at your company and take the immediate steps identified in this letter to ensure Amazon’s managers treat your workers fairly and do not require them to risk their own health and safety in the course of doing their jobs,” they concluded.

They have asked for a response by Feb. 21.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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