Injuries at Amazon Warehouses Rose 38 Percent In 2021: Labor Activists
Injuries at Amazon Warehouses Rose 38 Percent In 2021: Labor Activists

By Bryan Jung

Amazon.com Inc. warehouses in the United States, which employ millions of Americans, recorded a 38 percent rise in reported workplace injuries between 2020 and 2021, according to a new report released on April 12 by the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), a labor activism group.

Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pledged in a 2020 letter to shareholders that the company would become “Earth’s Safest Place to Work” after investing $300 million in workplace safety and instituting new protocols that the company claims are designed to reduce injuries.

Amazon has said that it plans to halve its warehouse injury rates by 2025, but SOC claims the company has ignored federal regulators’ recommendations to slow down the pace of work to reduce employee injuries.

“We hired tens of thousands of additional people to help us meet the unforeseen demand from COVID-19 and people turning to Amazon to help them safely get products and supplies during the pandemic,” said Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, in a statement to The Epoch Times.

“Like other companies in the industry, we saw an increase in recordable injuries during this time from 2020 to 2021 as we trained so many new people—however, when you compare 2021 to 2019, our recordable injury rate declined more than 13% year over year,” she said.

“While we still have more work to do and won’t be satisfied until we are excellent when it comes to safety, we continue to make measurable improvements in reducing injuries and keeping employees safe, and appreciate the work from all of our employees and safety teams who are contributing to this effort,” concluded Nantel.

The SOC is a coalition of four major labor unions: Service Employees International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Communications Workers of America, and United Farmworkers of America.

The SOC report (pdf), which relies on federal injury data reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said that despite all of the improvements, workplace injuries at Amazon in 2021 had increased compared with the previous year.

Amazon reported 38,334 total injuries in 2021, a 38 percent increase from the 27,697 injuries reported in 2020, the report states.

Also in 2021, Amazon accounted for about 50 percent of all warehouse injuries in the United States, despite only employing about 33 percent of all U.S. warehouse employees, and the company had an injury rate of 6.8 per 100 workers, the report states, more than double the rate of 3.3 per 100 workers at non-Amazon facilities.

According to The New York Times, serious injury rates were nearly 30 percent higher at Amazon’s latest automated warehouses, where employees struggle to keep up with rapidly moving robots, compared with its nonautomated facilities.

The labor activist report accuses Amazon of expecting workers in its automated facilities to perform as many as four times the number of repetitive motions per hour compared with their counterparts in the nonrobotic facilities.

In its report, the SOC demanded that Amazon give injured workers more time off to recover, accusing the retail giant of pushing workers too hard and fast to meet metrics at the expense of safety.

Lowering Amazon’s worker injury rate is a key part of the labor union organizing campaigns at the company, which have accelerated throughout the United States.

An Amazon warehouse in the New York City borough of Staten Island became the first in the United States to unionize when the workers’ vote tally was announced April 1, leading to the formation of the Amazon Labor Union.

“Safety and performance targets can go hand in hand,” said Amazon’s workplace safety chief Heather MacDougall, at a news conference last year.

Amazon is appealing four citations from Washington state’s Department of Labor and Industry, the state workplace safety agency, which accused the company of several workplace violations over the past year in a document (pdf) acquired by Business Insider.

The state fined Amazon $60,000 and called for the retailer to lower the pace of work at the warehouses.

“To meet the promise of two-day delivery, the high pace of work is pretty consistent throughout the facility,” said Richard Goggins, an inspector at the Washington safety agency.

“The combination of physical demands and high work pace is leading to injuries.”

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