Amazon’s workplace safety issues are getting worse, though you wouldn’t know it judging by the statements made by those at the top of the multibillion-dollar corporation.
“Our injury rates are sometimes misunderstood,” wrote Amazon CEO Andy Jassy in a recent letter to shareholders. Asserting that the company’s incident rates are “a little higher” than the warehouse industry average, Jassy states that the company nonetheless has room for improvement, and is “dissecting every process path” to lower the rates.
It’s a bold obfuscation. Contra Jassy’s assertions, Amazon’s well-established problem of grinding down its ever-expanding workforce has only gotten more dire, even as the company claims that it seeks to become “Earth’s Safest Place to Work.”
The numbers Jassy uses in his letter are misleading. He writes that Amazon’s warehouse workers are injured at a rate of 6.4 per 100 workers, compared to the industry average of 5.5 per 100 workers. But those are the numbers from 2020 rather than 2021. Last year’s numbers are worse: according to a recent report from the union coalition Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), the total injury rate among Amazon workers in 2021 was 7.9 per 100 workers, a sharp increase from 2020.
Further, comparing Amazon’s rate to the industry average fails to account for the fact that Amazon employs around one-third of all warehouse workers in the United States; much better to compare Amazon’s rate to that of all non-Amazon warehouses. The SOC report does so, finding the serious injury rate at Amazon is more than twice as high as that of its counterparts.
As Business Insider notes, these numbers reflect a 20 percent increase from the previous year, which itself was unconscionably high (for more on that, check out Will Evans’s groundbreaking reporting on the subject). When asked by Business Insider why Jassy did not use the latest numbers, Amazon did not respond.
It’s obvious why Amazon would seek to minimize its workplace safety problems: public scrutiny of the company’s working conditions only continues to increase, and with workers now having a foot in the door after unionizing JFK8, an enormous fulfillment center in Staten Island which serves the company’s crucial New York market, criticism will only get louder.
Workplace safety regulators have long said Amazon must lower its grueling quotas to reduce workers’ injury rates, but on this issue Amazon is intransigent. Worker organizing inside the sprawling warehouses may yet be in early stages, but employees’ insistence on raising the alarm about the issue has already led some states to consider legislation meant to zero in on quotas: California recently passed one such bill, albeit a watered-down version, and Minnesota, another state that has seen sustained organizing by Amazon workers, is mulling similar legislation.
There is no magic fix for Amazon’s safety issues. No far-fetched AmaZen wellness booths on the shop floor or algorithmic management of workers’ bodies can substitute for slowing down the pace of work. The effect Amazon’s quotas have on workers’ health and well-being is not news — the company has known about the issue for years, and whatever it has done to address it has not worked, as evidenced by the 2021 injury numbers. It’s no wonder that Pam Greer, the human-resources executive tasked with making Amazon “Earth’s Best Employer,” has now left the company. As with every issue that hurts Amazon’s workers but helps its bottom line, the company won’t change until it is forced to do so. And as these latest numbers show, workers’ lives hang in the balance. The union organizing efforts can’t spread quickly enough.