Amazon has repeatedly insisted that reports about the allegedly terrible working conditions in its "fulfillment center" warehouses are overblown, and that it's workers are treated no differently than any other warehouse worker. To try and save face, Amazon announced last year that it would hike pay to at least $15 for thousands of workers in its warehouses and elsewhere.
But the abuses have apparently continued, and a series of reports released just days before the beginning of the holiday shopping season highlighted Amazon's abuses of both its workers and the public welfare system.
The report that drew the most attention was a joint project between the Reveal Center for Investigative Reporting and The Atlantic which found that Amazon warehouse workers are seriously injured on the job at twice the rate of other warehouse workers - likely a factor of Amazon's demanding conditions.
The reporter who wrote the piece compared injury records from 23 of Amazon's 110 fulfillment centers nationwide. He found the rate of injuries at Amazon's centers was 9.6 per 100 full-time workers in 2018, compared with an industry average of four, according to the Atlantic.
It's the latest indication that Amazon's usage of robots to work in harmony with people on its warehouse floors has made work more dangerous for people.
One warehouse worker interviewed for the story was required to scan a new item at her station every 11 seconds - and that Amazon knew when she didn't.
Dixon’s scan rate – more than 300 items an hour, thousands of individual products a day – was being tracked constantly, the data flowing to managers in real time, then crunched by a proprietary software system called ADAPT. She knew, like the thousands of other workers there, that if she didn’t hit her target speed, she would be written up and, if she didn’t improve, she eventually would be fired.
The report also delved into the death of a worker at one of Amazon's warehouses, and whether Amazon's quotas had any impact on that.
Another report released yesterday was from the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research group, in a study underwritten by the LA Federation of Labor (full disclosure).
It determined that more than half of Amazon warehouse workers in Southern California live in substandard housing, and that, for every $1 in wages they receive, they also get 24 cents in public assistance. On average, employees receive $5,245 in public benefits a year. And the biggest expense is government subsidized health insurance.
The report's authors also accused Amazon of positioning its warehouses in California near low-income communities to ensure an endless supply of hungry workers. Meanwhile, the report describes Amazons culture of monitoring employees' movements as "grueling and high-stress."
Amazon’s warehouse jobs are grueling and high-stress. Customer orders must be assembled and delivered on rapid schedules. Warehouse workers wear tracking devices that management uses to monitor where they are at any time, how many steps they take to get their packages assembled, and how long it takes to pick up each item.
Those who can’t meet the assembly quotas are terminated. Most logistics employees are working full-time to support their families but 86 percent earn less than the basic living wage for Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The typical worker had total annual earnings in 2017 of $20,585, which is slightly over half of the living wage. Fourteen percent were under the federal poverty threshold and another 31 percent were just above the poverty threshold.
For what it's worth, Amazon said that it's high rate of injuries recorded is a result of its zealous reporting of injuries. Amazon said it tries to stop injured workers from returning to work, though employees interviewed by the reporter contested this.
And the company's "safety protocols" were portrayed as some thinly veiled CYA, since employees say they are almost impossible to follow.
The company does instruct workers on the safe way to move their bodies and handle equipment. But several former workers said they had to break the safety rules to keep up. They would jump or stretch to reach a top rack instead of using a stepladder. They would twist and bend over to grab boxes instead of taking time to squat and lift with their legs. They would hoist extra-heavy items alone to avoid wasting time getting help. They had to, they said, or they would lose their jobs. So they took the risk.
Amazon has benefited generously from public resources, including roughly $800 million in tax breaks in just four counties in Southern California.
Adding to the mounting criticism, a group of grassroots organizations emerged this week to announce their opposition to Amazon's "growing, powerful grip over our society and economy." But even as popular support for breaking up big tech surges, automation still threatens millions of jobs over the next decade.