Workplace safety incidents have been a major topic of discussion at certain high-flying companies over the last couple of months, but one of the names that hasn’t recently been mentioned has been Amazon. With the release of a new report by The Guardian early this week, that may very well change.
Amazon employees who suffer workplace safety incidents may be forgotten and left behind - with one report of a woman who was literally left "homeless", living in her car in a fulfillment warehouse parking lot and going "days without eating". Other employees claim that Amazon has failed to accept their workman's compensation filings and that the company has tried to "settle" with them for a pittance in a manner that absolves Amazon of all liability.
The new expose published over the weekend came just days after it was widely reported that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' net worth had eclipsed $150 billion after Amazon stock rallied to all time highs after its most recent earnings report.
The article goes into depth on several workplace safety incidents that left warehouse and fulfillment center employees unable to perform their duties at work and also reportedly neglected by the company when they sought medical care, paid time off, workman's compensation or other reasonable accommodations for their injuries.
The article highlights Amazon warehouse worker Vickie Allen. Her story begins in October of last year. Her station at the Amazon warehouse where she worked was missing a key piece of safety equipment known as a brush guard, according to The Guardian's report, which prevented packages from falling onto the floor.
Reportedly, Amazon didn’t replace this piece of safety equipment and therefore Vicky was forced to improvise and create her own solution, using a tote bin to substitute for the guard. After counting in an awkward position, due to the lack of the brush guard, she ultimately wound up hurting her back. Amazon reportedly provided her with nothing more than a heating pad, as a solution. From there, she wound up driving 60 miles back-and-forth to work only to be sent home each day without pay until she reportedly tried to get worker’s compensation.
The article notes that it took the company until June 2018 to fix the station and that they offered her a week's paid leave for nine months of issues:
“By June 2018, they finally had that station fixed. It took them eight months to put one little brush guard on this station,” Allen said. On 2 July, she met with management at the Amazon fulfillment center, who offered her a week of paid leave for the issues she had to deal with over the past nine months.
An MRI that she had in April of 2018 ultimately confirmed her back issues - just days prior to the company's workman's compensation insurer reportedly having the company's doctor "drop her as a patient".
Once on workers compensation, Allen started going to physical therapy. In January 2018, she returned to work and injured herself again on the same workstation that still was not fixed.
Allen went back on medical leave and took an additional two weeks of unpaid leave because she didn’t have the money to drive to work. In April 2018, an MRI scan showed her back was still injured, but just five days after her diagnosis, she claims Amazon’s workers compensation insurer, Sedgwick, had the company doctor drop her as a patient.
The final end result from the nearly $1 trillion company? Amazon offered her $3500 to buy her silence. She declined and instead took her story to the media. She also posted this video of her story on YouTube:
The Guardian article also highlights another worker who ultimately had to file a lawsuit against Amazon after he claimed that he was told he was "too young to have back problems" and then was fired for hurting his back on the job:
In April 2018, 43-year-old Bryan Hill of Seffner, Florida filed a lawsuit against Amazon, alleging managers fired him for hurting his back on the job and failed to file a workers compensation claim once his injury was reported. “It’s been scheduled for mediation in September, and we’re in a holding pattern until then,” said Miguel Bouzas, the attorney representing Hill in the lawsuit. According to the lawsuit, Hill was told by a manager he was too young to have back problems, and he was fired before Amazon Human Resources would authorize a doctor visit.
That case is echoed with another example: a woman who fell off of a ladder that was hit from below claims she was denied workman's comp paperwork, before having her short term disability cut short and then, ultimately, being fired. The article notes that she lost her home after being fired from Amazon:
At an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Pennsylvania, one former employee was fired five weeks after getting injured on the job. “I was on a ladder and someone came flying into the area I was in, hit the ladder causing me to fall and I landed on my back and left leg,” said Christina Miano-Wilburn. Her back is permanently injured from the incident. “They refused to give me the paperwork for workmen’s comp. They cut my short term disability after five weeks. I was supposed to get it for 26 weeks.”
Miano-Wilburn was notified of her job termination through a letter in the mail in May 2017 after working at Amazon for two years. She lost her home shortly after being fired from Amazon.
Employees claim that they have also been accused of faking fatigue and exhaustion while working at fulfillment centers. The article quotes one employee stating that people do not even report injuries anymore because they’re scared to lose their job:
Other Amazon employees succumb to the fatigue and exhaustion of the fulfillment center work environment and quit before getting injured. “I felt they thought I was faking. I was dehydrated and dizzy,” said Lindsai Florence Johnson, who was taken away in an ambulance in April during a hot day while working at an Amazon fulfillment center in San Bernardino, California. She quit in May 2018 over mistreatment after starting in June 2017. “Not all people report injuries because they are scared to get taken off their job or told they can’t work over there anymore. I have many times come home with bruises from work at Amazon and I experienced my first hernia there.”
Another story is told of one employee who was coerced to try and sign a document to make him stipulate that his injuries occurred prior to working at Amazon, despite an MRI showing a torn meniscus in his left knee. He claims that Amazon would not accept his workman's compensation filing, nor would they pay his medical fees:
“I was squatting full speed and going up the step ladder as many times as I could an hour to try to hit the rates. All that squatting hurt my left knee, so I favored the other one and hurt that one,” said Yevtuck, who hurt his knees in November 2015.
An Amazon company doctor recommended he return to work on light duty and gave him braces for each knee. Yevtuck provided documents corroborating his medical diagnoses from Amazon company doctors and private doctors. “As soon as I came back, the supervisor returned me back to a job that was full duty and I reinjured both knees.”
He added Amazon told him to return to work, or work a light duty job if he signed a form stating his injuries occurred prior to working at Amazon. An MRI he received in April 2016 from a private doctor noted he tore the meniscus in his left knee, but Amazon would not pay his medical fees or accept his workers compensation filing.
Amazon, of course, defended itself for the article claiming that ensuring the safety of its workers is a priority for the company and that it is proud of its safety record.
But it's not just the employees that are speaking out about these workplace safety issues. The National Council for Occupation Safety and Health shares many of its employees views, concluding that "Amazon’s warehouses were listed on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s “dirty dozen” list of most dangerous places to work in the United States in April, 2018. The company made the list due to its pattern of unsafe working conditions and its focus on productivity and efficiency over the safety and livelihood of its employees. Amazon’s emphasis on fulfilling a high demand of orders has resulted in unsafe working conditions for its warehouse employees."