Report: Indiana Officials Secretly Removed Citations Against Amazon Following Workplace Death

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos during the JFK Space Summit at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Officials in Indiana allegedly removed citations against Amazon concerning the death of a warehouse worker just as Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) was trying to persuade Amazon to build its “HQ2” facility in the state.

A recent Indianapolis Star report claims that state labor officials quietly deleted every fine levied against Amazon and accepted the company’s argument that the Amazon worker was to blame. The report was produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a non-profit news organization.

Phillip Lee Terry, 59, was crushed to death in 2017 by a forklift while he was working a shift at an Amazon facility outside Indianapolis.

The company initially faced four serious safety citations, for a fine totaling $28,000. But the investigator on the case, John Stallone,  claims that he experienced pushback from his superiors and that his boss, Indiana OSHA Director Julie Alexander, advised Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce giant on how to lessen the fine.

Stallone recorded a conversation between safety officials and Amazon during which Alexander reportedly discussed what she would need to shift the blame from the company to “employee misconduct.”

Stallone alleges that Indiana Labor Commissioner Rick Ruble later pulled him into his office for a meeting in which Gov. Holcomb was also present.

He claims that Gov. Holcomb told him how much it would mean to Indiana if the state won the Amazon headquarters deal and that the commissioner told him to back off on the Amazon case, or resign.

The Indiana Labor Department, which oversees the state OSHA, denied the allegations in a statement to Reveal: “The allegations are nothing short of bizarre and fantastical – in addition to being absolutely false.”

Stallone quit soon after the meeting. A year after Terry’s death, Indiana officials reportedly signed an agreement with Amazon to delete all the safety citations and fines. The agreement said Amazon had met the requirements of an “unpreventable employee misconduct defense.”

A state labor department spokesperson said Amazon produced proof that Terry was properly trained, including a video of Terry handling the equipment the right way another time. But two former Amazon safety managers told Reveal that they blame Amazon for failing to use formally trained maintenance professionals.

Amazon ultimately chose to build its second headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

Stallone told Reveal: “I think Amazon was given a pass, and they were able to walk away from this fatality incident with no blood on them.”

The report was part of a larger investigation by Reveal into dangerous workplace conditions at Amazon fulfillment centers around the country.

Warehouse workers often face demanding quotas and brutal working hours, which has led to serious injuries. Of the 23 of Amazon’s 110 fulfillment centers nationwide, the report found that the rate of serious injuries for those facilities was more than double the national average for the warehousing industry.

An Amazon spokesperson provided the following statement to Breitbart News: “Any allegation that Amazon pressured state regulators to take actions that were not in the best interest of our workers is absurd. We stand by the findings of the investigation and that appropriate safety training was provided to Mr. Terry.”

Update — Added a statement from Amazon.

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