Injured Amazon workers and labor organizers have begun protesting the dangerous work speeds and high injury rates of the company’s warehouses.
Motherboard reports that injured former Amazon warehouse workers and labor organizers are protesting the dangerous work speeds and high injury rates at Amazon’s automated warehouses at the company’s brick-and-mortar stores in downtown Chicago. The protests come shortly after the release of a new report detailing the injury rates in one of Amazon’s most dangerous warehouses, MDW7, which is the first in Illinois to use automated robots.
Roberto Clack, an organizer with Warehouse Workers for Justice which organized the Chicago protests, stated: “The speed of the workplace, and automation adding to the speed is one thing that comes up over and over again when I organize workers in Chicago.” Clark continued: “It’s no surprise that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, those injuries are the worst. Warehouse workers are paying the price of Amazon’s speed.”
The protests coincide with the launch of a national coalition known as Athena which is comprised of three dozen grassroots labor, antitrust and digital rights associations. Athena is the first unified resistance effort in the U.S. against Amazon. An Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard: “It’s no coincidence to us that this group would emerge now because the holiday shopping season has become an opportunity for our critics, including unions, to raise awareness for their cause – in this case, increased membership dues.” The spokesperson added: “These groups are conjuring misinformation to work in their favor, when in fact we already offer the things they claim to be able to provide.”
Chicago is a critical area for Amazon’s logistics as it is America’s largest inland port. Organizers view the Chicago warehouses as a strategic point for Amazon labor organizing due to it’s importance to the firm. “Chicago is a very strategic location for labor organizing, because it’s a choke point in Amazon’s network,” Clack said. “A massive amount of products come through our community. To organize for justice for workers at Amazon, you have to be in Chicagoland.”
Three former Amazon employees who allege that they were injured on the job are taking part in the protest. An Amazon spokesperson commented on this stating that “there were no Amazon employees who participated in today’s event – this was strictly an outside community group with no connection to Amazon.”
The recently published health and safety report which contains data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revealed that nine out of ever 100 workers at MDW7 were injured badly enough in 2018 that they had to take time off work or be placed on light duty. Protestors allege that the automated robots in the factory add to speed which increases injury rates. 40 workers were injured so badly last year that they could not return tot heir job, some were left permanently disabled.
An Amazon spokesperson commented on the report stating: “While many companies under-record safety incidents in order to keep their rates low, Amazon does the opposite—we take an aggressive stance on recording injuries no matter how big or small, which results in elevated recordable rates and makes comparisons misleading.”
One MDW7 worker, Michelle Miller, 47, tore her rotator cuff after working at the warehouse for less than a year. Miller is taking part in the protests and says she is doing so to reveal what happens behind closed doors at Amazon. Miller stated: “I’ve never spoken out before, but I really want people and customers to know what goes on behind the scenes at Amazon. People have been injured and killed in Amazon warehouses, and no one’s doing anything to make it safer. I want to make it safer for my friends and family who still work there.”