Strategic Organizing Center
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, November 30
Unions Call on OSHA To Investigate Amazon as Report Alleges Company Misled Federal Government About Extent of COVID-19 Cases in its Warehouses
New analysis finds Amazon brazenly failed to report infections to federal authorities, risking workers’ lives
Retail giant continues to put production, profits over safety as holiday surge ramps up, Omicron variant hits
Washington, D.C. — A coalition of major national labor unions and worker centers Tuesday called on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate Amazon after a new report revealed the global online retail giant may have committed a “criminal violation” of federal health and safety laws and put workers’ lives at risk by vastly under-reporting the number of COVID-19 cases in its massive network of warehouses to federal authorities.
In a complaint sent Tuesday to OSHA Assistant Secretary Douglas Parker, the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Warehouse Workers Resource Center and the Awood Center urge OSHA to investigate Amazon’s “disturbing pattern of misleading or grossly incomplete” information provided to authorities around COVID-19 cases in its warehouses.
The pattern is described in a new report released Tuesday by the SOC that shows Amazon repeatedly and brazenly misled federal health officials about the extent of widespread COVID-19 outbreaks in its warehouses. The company’s systematic failure to record COVID-19 cases undercut the federal government’s ability to protect workers, according to the report.
“Allowing Amazon to continue to evade effective federal oversight on COVID safety risks sending the message that the company can continue to prioritize its profits over its workers’ health,” the groups write in their complaint.
SOC’s analysis found that despite having announced publicly in October 2020 that it had identified nearly 20,000 COVID cases nationally among Amazon employees, and acknowledging hundreds of cases in Amazon workplace outbreaks to state and local health departments, Amazon subsequently reported only 27 cases of “respiratory conditions” (the category in which COVID cases are reported) to OSHA for all of 2020.
“Amazon has failed to explain why it believes that out of the tens of thousands of its employees infected with COVID-19, virtually none of them were infected at work,” the organizations write in their complaint. “This persistent pattern of apparent non-compliance would be alarming on its own at any employer– not to mention the second-largest private employer in the entire country. However, these evident failures have also happened with little or no federal oversight.”
‘Go Back to Work’
By recording only 27 work-related COVID illnesses for all of 2020, Amazon is claiming to OSHA that almost none of the tens of thousands of infections among its workers it announced publicly in October 2020 were work-related–”an accomplishment so extraordinary as to be unbelievable,” according to the report.
“From the first days of the pandemic, it quickly became normal to hear everyone coughing and seeing sweat on peoples’ foreheads because everyone had a fever. It became normal to hear people vomiting and see people passing out,” said Natalie Monarrez, an Amazon warehouse worker at JFK8 in Staten Island, New York. “It’s rare that a day goes by when someone hasn’t tested positive. But Amazon abandoned testing, tracing, sanitizing, and other safety precautions months ago. Whenever we tried to ask for protection, they would tell us to go back to work.”
Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, put workers’ lives at risk by depriving OSHA of information about COVID-19 cases in its facilities, undermining the agency’s ability to identify COVID safety problems and to hold the company accountable for fixing them, according to the SOC analysis. Despite hundreds of complaints from Amazon workers about COVID hazards, OSHA’s data system indicates that OSHA has done only 30 inspections at Amazon facilities since April 1, 2020, and only three were COVID-related.
“It is a criminal violation of federal law to file false reports with OSHA, as Amazon may have done in this case,” the report reads.
The SOC analysis examines annual injury and illness reports employers are legally required to submit to OSHA for any workplace with 20 or more employees. The report looks at Amazon’s data for 753 facilities, which appear to include every significantly-sized warehousing facility in its U.S. logistics network.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon prioritized profits and production while sweeping massive COVID-19 outbreaks at its warehouse facilities under the rug,” said Eric Frumin, SOC’s health and safety director. “This isn’t a minor mistake in record keeping — it’s a concerted, systematic campaign waged by the nation’s second largest employer to avoid government oversight and sacrifice worker safety. As we approach the holiday rush and a potential new winter wave of the virus, OSHA must investigate and hold the company accountable for putting workers at risk.”
‘All About Profit Over People’
In addition to analyzing data provided to OSHA by Amazon, the report includes a new nationwide survey of Amazon warehouse workers, conducted between August and September of 2021. A total of 790 Amazon warehouse workers at facilities across 40 states responded to the survey, reporting the following:
- Amazon relaxed safety precautions, increased production pressure in face of the Delta surge. Warehouse workers were asked to compare Amazon’s COVID-safety practices during the latest surge in COVID-19 cases with earlier periods in the pandemic. Over half (53 percent) of workers said during the Delta surge, Amazon conducted less enforcement of social distancing rules than before, seven in 10 said Amazon conducted fewer temporary checks, while over half (51 percent) said Amazon pressured workers to meet production requirements more or much more than in earlier periods.
- Workers report pressure to work while sick during COVID-19 pandemic. Of the workers who responded to the SOC survey, one in four (26 percent) reported going to work even though they felt sick. Of these workers, more than six out of 10 reported the reason they went to work feeling sick was because Amazon does not provide enough paid sick leave (64 percent) or because they were afraid they would be disciplined, lose hours, or be penalized in another way by management for not showing up to their shis (61 percent). Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of workers reported witnessing co-workers coming to work while sick.
- Workers report Amazon notification and contact tracing procedures were insufficient. Nearly four in 10 (37 percent) workers reported being exposed to co-workers who tested positive for COVID-19. Of the exposed workers, only one in four (25 percent) were immediately notified by Amazon of their exposure.
- Workers report an atmosphere of fear, intense production pressure continued through COVID-19 pandemic. According to almost six in ten (58 percent) workers, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon has terminated, disciplined, or threatened to discipline workers for failing to keep up with the pace of work, also known as the rate. Over four in 10 (42 percent) reported that the company terminated, disciplined, or threatened to discipline workers for missing work to care for themselves or others (including children out of school); almost one in three (31 percent) for refusing to work without necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) or other safety equipment; and almost one in four (23 percent) for speaking out for better safety protections.
“Managers never talked to us directly about COVID-19. But they would get in your face if production levels dropped even a little bit,” said an Amazon worker in San Bernardino, California. “It was like a hot-bed. It’s really easy to get COVID-19 at Amazon warehouses, especially now due to the hiring for peak season. And they’re not doing anything to keep us safe. Peak season at Amazon is all about profit over people.”
The Strategic Organizing Center (formerly Change to Win) is a democratic coalition of labor unions representing millions of working people and is dedicated to improving their lives.