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Amazon workers have highest warehouse injury rate, labor groups say

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The online shopping boom that has turned Amazon into the world's largest e-commerce company has a dark side: the highest industry injury rate for workers who pack and ship the millions of products sent around the globe, according to a coalition of labor groups.

The groups based their analysis, released Tuesday, on injury statistics reported by Amazon to federal regulators and by surveying the company's warehouse workers. According to their findings, Amazon workers are twice as likely to be injured on the job as e-commerce workers for Walmart, Amazon's closest retail competitor. The injury rate for Amazon's delivery drivers — who are classified as contractors rather than full company employees — also have an injury rate that is 50% higher than drivers for UPS, the groups found.

"The company's obsession with speed has come at a huge cost for Amazon's workforce," reads the report from the Strategic Organizing Center. (The SOC, formerly called Change to Win, is a coalition of four labor unions: the Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Communications Workers of America and United Farmworkers of America.)

In 2020, Amazon reported a rate of 6.5 injuries for every 100 full-time equivalent workers, according to the findings. That's more than 50% higher than the rate for all U.S. warehouse workers, which was 4 per 100 full-time workers, and more than double the workforce average of 2.8. The SOC said the injury rate for Amazon workers fell in 2020 because the coronavirus pandemic forced the company to relax its stringent productivity metrics so employees would have more time to clean and sanitize their stations. In 2019, Amazon's injury rate was 8.8 per 100 full-time workers, according to the labor group.

Amazon warehouse workers are not only injured more frequently, the analysis found — they are also injured more seriously. About 90% of reported injuries are severe enough that the affected workers couldn't perform their regular jobs, either having to stay home or take on less demanding duties. 

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Asked for comment, Amazon did not dispute the figures or analysis provided by the SOC, but said that its warehouse injury rates had improved.

"While any incident is one too many, we are continuously learning and seeing improvements through ergonomics programs, guided exercises at employees' workstations, mechanical assistance equipment, workstation setup and design, and forklift telematics and guardrails — to name a few," the company said in a statement.

Last month, after a citation from Washington state's workplace safety watchdog, Amazon announced a goal to cut its workplace injury rate in half.

What's leading to the higher rate of injuries at Amazon, according to the report: the company's intense focus on productivity. Employees have only "seconds" to finish packing a box before moving on to the next one, Serena Wallace, a packer at the company's Bessemer, Alabama, facility testified at a recent hearing before the National Labor Relations Board. Those who take too long packing risk being penalized or even fired. In 2018, Amazon fired hundreds of workers for falling short of productivity quotas, the Verge reported

"The fast, relentless pace and forceful twisting, turning and lifting is causing these serious injuries," said Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA official who is now at the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group. "Amazon has enough resources to be the safest company in America."

SOC isn't the first group to point the finger at Amazon. Reports by media outlets including Reveal and The Washington Post have also concluded that Amazon workers are injured at far higher rates than their peers in other warehouses.

This story has been updated to include a comment from Amazon.

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