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Bernie Sanders Opens Investigation Into Amazon’s ‘Uniquely Dangerous’ Warehouses

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders launched an investigation into what he calls “dangerous and illegal conditions” running rampant in Amazon’s warehouse facilities. In a fiery letter addressed to CEO Andy Jassy Tuesday, Sanders accused Amazon of putting profits over people and creating a corporate culture that “treats workers as disposable.”

“At every turn—from warehouse design and workstation setup, to pace of work requirements, to medical care for injuries and subsequent pressure to return to work—Amazon makes decisions that actively harm workers in the name of its bottom line,” Sanders wrote.

The Vermont Democrat, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) accused the company of willfully and repeatedly violating workplace safety laws and setting opaque and aggressive productivity goals. Those ruthless quotas, when combined with the company’s notoriously soul-crushing performance monitoring system, allegedly lead workers to over-exert themselves to the point of physical injury. Warehouse workers critical of Amazon’s productivity metrics have said it leaves them feeling like little more than a robot.

Amazon’s incessant productivity demands, Sanders alleged, make its workplace “uniquely dangerous.” Speaking to that point, the letter cites an April report from The Strategic Organizing Center, which estimates Amazon warehouse workers suffered around 39,000 injuries last year. Amazon’s rate of “serious injuries,” according to the report, was more than double the rate at non-Amazon warehouses.

“In its endless pursuit of profits, Amazon sacrifices workers’ bodies under the constant pressure of a surveillance system that enforces impossible rates,” Sanders said.

The letter gives Jassy up until July 5th to provide documentation explaining Amazon’s noted above-industry average workplace injury rates as well at its high rates of injury at facilities with robotics equipment. Sanders also sought more clarity on the company’s high rate of worker turnover as well as any communications within the company discussing potential links between the pace of work in its warehouse and increased injury rates.

Amazon pushed back against the letter in an email sent to Gizmodo, with a spokesperson saying the company “strongly disagree[s] with Senator Sanders’ assertions.” The company called into question the workplace injury figures cited in Sanders’ letter, including the findings from the Strategic Organizing Center, which the company described as cherry-picked.

“We take the safety and health of our employees very seriously,” Amazon spokesperson Steve Kelly said. “There will always be ways to improve, but we’re proud of the progress we’ve made which includes a 23% reduction in recordable injuries across our U.S. operations since 2019. We’ve invested more than $1 billion into safety initiatives, projects, and programs in the last four years, and we’ll continue investing and inventing in this area because nothing is more important than our employees’ safety.”

Maria Langholz, the Communications Director for left-leaning advocacy group Demand Progress, praised Sanders’ investigation, which she noted could mark a “critical step” towards a future Congressional hearing where lawmakers can grill Amazon executives over workplace safety.

“The dire work environment that Amazon workers face is preventable, and this is the first step toward keeping Amazon workers safe,” Langholz said.

Workers accuse Amazon of managing through ‘fear and surveillance’

Concerns over Amazon’s unyielding productivity requirements has contributed to an uptick in labor organization activity at warehouse across the country. Khali Jama, an Amazon worker from St. Paul Minnesota organizing with The Awood Center, attributed the majority of the injuries they witnessed in her workplace to the demanding speed workers feel pressured to maintain. Jama accused Amazon of managing her and her fellow workers through a brutal apparatus of “fear and surveillance.”

“If you are not keeping up with their unreasonable standards of speed, a manager will come talk to you and tell you to speed up,” Jama said in a statement provided to Gizmodo by the Athena Coalition. “If you are still not able to keep up for a second, or a third time, you will get fired through an app on your phone. No one tells you that you have been fired.”

Sanders’ new investigaiton comes just months after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the nation’s top workplace safety regulator, issued multiple citations against Amazon for exposing workers to hazardous conditions. Worker frustrations with Amazon’s perceived disregard for safety led hundreds of warehosue workers to walk out in protests earlier this year.

“Amazon is one of the most valuable companies in the world worth $1.3 trillion and its founder, Jeff Bezos, is one of the richest men in the world worth nearly $150 billion,” Sanders said in his letter. “Amazon should be one of the safest places in America to work, not one of the most dangerous.”

“If Amazon can afford to spend $6 billion on stock buybacks last year, it can afford to make sure that its warehouses are safe places to work,” Sanders added.

Source: Gizmodo