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 BrownMnuchin says he and Pelosi have agreed to restart coronavirus stimulus talks Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Remote work poses state tax challenges MORE (D-Ohio) and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose The role (un)happiness plays in how people vote 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 BaldwinSenators introduce bipartisan bill to mandate digital apps disclose country of origin Keep teachers in the classroom Cher raised million for Biden campaign at LGBTQ-themed fundraiser 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 WarrenNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Democrats blast Trump after report reveals he avoided income taxes for 10 years: 'Disgusting' Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds 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.