Democratic senators press Amazon over injury rates

Democratic senators press Amazon over injury rates
© Greg Nash

A group of senators, including Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Stocks close with second day of steep losses | Dow falls over 800 points as coronavirus fears grow | Kudlow claims virus has been contained | US expects China to honor trade deal amid outbreak Hillicon Valley: Agencies play catch-up over TikTok security concerns | Senate Dems seek sanctions on Russia over new election meddling | Pentagon unveils AI principles Senate Democrats urge Trump administration to impose sanctions on Russia for election interference MORE (D-Ohio) and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.), pressed Amazon in a letter on Monday over the higher-than-industry-average injury rates in its U.S. warehouses, pushing the company to take "concrete actions" to ensure its facilities are as safe as possible.

Citing recent reports from a union-backed advocacy group and the Center For Investigative Reporting, the senators accused Amazon of placing profit over worker safety. The letter emerges amid reignited scrutiny of how Amazon treats its hundreds of thousands of employees, some of whom have gone public with personal anecdotes that blame Amazon for encouraging them to work until they injured themselves.

"Amazon’s dismal safety record indicates a greater concern for profits than for your own workers’ safety and health,” Sanders, Brown and Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinOvernight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Democratic senators press Amazon over injury rates MORE (D-Wis.) wrote. “We urge you to overhaul this profit-at-all costs culture at your company and take the immediate steps identified in this letter to ensure Amazon’s managers treat your workers fairly and do not require them to risk their own health and safety in the course of doing their jobs." 

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The Center for Investigative Reporting reported that the rate of "serious" injuries for 23 of Amazon's fulfillment centers across the U.S. was more than double the national average for warehouse employees. 

Amazon says some of the allegations are based on faulty math. The company says it "over-reports" employee injuries, meaning its injury rates look higher than average only because many other companies do not report the bulk of injuries they come across. Amazon reports any injury that can't be addressed by first aid, the tech behemoth said on Monday. 

And it noted that around 70 percent of all injuries reported are strains, pulled muscles, stiffness or soreness.

Twelve Democratic senators, including 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass.), signed on to the letter alongside Sanders, Brown and Baldwin. 

"We urge you to take immediate steps to protect your employees from workplace injuries. Your employees’ lives and well-being depend upon your swift action," the senators wrote. 

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They laid out a set of proposals around how Amazon should tackle the rising number of workplace injuries, some of which Amazon already does and some that would mark a significant change for the company. 

For example, the senators suggested that Amazon "reduce workers’ quotas and speed requirements" and ensure its on-site medical representatives are licensed professionals.

The senators also called called for a "comprehensive ergonomic evaluation of all warehouse tasks." The company said it has already employed many ergonomic experts to observe and update how workers are advised to move on the job. 

The senators asked for a written response by Feb. 21. 

Labor activists and lawmakers have long criticized Amazon over its bruising working conditions, pointing to reports that found Amazon warehouse workers were treated like robots, were forced to urinate in bottles in order to save time and lived in fear of harsh treatment by managers. Multiple Amazon workers have spoken up on the issue, with some groups of employees pushing to unionize. Amazon has disputed those charges. 

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Amazon has insisted it is investing enormous sums of money and manpower into ensuring its warehouses are safe for all of its workers. 

Updated 8:49 P.M.