Amazon workers this week echoed the findings of a new report which paints a troubling picture of working conditions and inequalities in the retailer’s warehouses in Minnesota, prompting a state lawmaker to pledge to act in the next legislative session.
Analyzing data from six Amazon facilities, researchers at the National Employment Law Project found injury and turnover rates well above the industry average, disparities between the earnings of black and white workers in some warehouses, and working arrangements designed to thwart unionization.
But Tyler Hamilton, who worked at the MSP1 plant in Shakopee for four years, said the data “does not surprise those of us who have worked inside these warehouses. We see it every day.
Hamilton and others active in the Awwood Center, a worker-run organization that focuses on issues affecting members of East African communities in Minnesota, held a virtual press conference Monday to share their reactions to the report, released on December 8.
representing Emma Greenman, a DFLer from Minneapolis, has pledged to hold hearings into Amazon’s labor practices after the Legislature resumed in January. She said she was drafting legislation to ensure warehouse workers have adequate breaks, safety protections and a voice at work.
“As Amazon grows here in Minnesota, the legislature needs to consider the human cost,” Greenman said.
TARIFF INFLUENCES INJURIES
Workers on the press call focused most of their frustrations on Amazon’s “rate” – a productivity benchmark each of them must meet to avoid being faced with discipline. Papa Ali, a four-year Amazon veteran, remembers calling on his managers, as they pushed the rate higher and higher, with a traditional Somali saying that humans are not horses and should not be whipped to go faster.
“You are supposed to work like a machine,” Ali said, speaking through an interpreter.
The pace of driving is behind Amazon’s catastrophic safety record in Minnesota, workers and researchers say, where Amazon employees are more than twice as likely to be injured as other employees. warehouse.
Citing Amazon’s own data, the NELP report found 11.1 injuries per year per 100 full-time equivalent warehouse workers between 2018 and 2020. In non-Amazon warehouses, that rate was 5.2. The Shakopee facility is particularly dangerous, the researchers noted, with an injury rate in 2020 higher than any industry in Minnesota.
Irene Tung, a senior researcher at NELP, said most of the injuries reported in Amazon warehouses were severe muscle strain, which can have lifelong effects. Injuries are also “completely preventable,” Tung said, but that would require easing work rates and allowing time to recuperate between repetitive tasks.
This is not the Amazon model.
“What makes working at Amazon so much more dangerous than working at other jobs in Minnesota is the excessively fast pace of work, enforced by a distinctive disciplinary system that Amazon has pioneered, which combines surveillance intensive electronics with frequent discipline and dismissal, “Tung said.
According to workers in Minnesota, sustaining an injury on the Amazon warehouse floor is the start of a lengthy process that too often results in more serious injuries, unpaid medical bills or lost wages. Speaking through an interpreter, Fardowso Yusuf said the process was known among Amazon workers like her as “circumvention.”
“When I got injured, I was sent home and my injuries were removed from the system,” Yusuf said. “I couldn’t find any record and didn’t receive any payment. “
Yusuf and other workers said they confronted managers with reports from their personal doctors, only to be “told they don’t accept this kind of report,” Yusuf said. Ali said he asked for a reduction in the workload after his doctor diagnosed him with spinal disc injuries, but an official told him to “go back to work.”
“They don’t take him seriously,” said Ali, who is still feeling the effects of his injury. “Amazon will give you the ride until you give up, until you raise your hand and get no results. [English] this makes it even more difficult for you.
Indeed, NELP researchers have raised questions about Amazon’s disproportionate employment of black and East African workers in Minnesota. Greenman, a member of the House Labor committee, said these practices should gain more public attention in light of “Minnesota’s Shameful Racial Inequality. “
In Scott County, where Amazon represents the overwhelming majority of warehouse workers, black warehouse workers report 37% less, on average, than white warehouse workers. Amazon does not release average pay rates by race, but Tung said the data suggests black workers in Scott County are being separated into lower-paying jobs.
What is clear from the report is that Amazon is not living up to its promise to create high quality jobs for Minnesotans in its warehouses. If Amazon were, Tung said, its annual turnover rates – which have reached 170% at Shakopee facilities – wouldn’t be significantly higher than those at other warehouses, which average 61% per year.
Greenman called Amazon’s business model “shocking” and said it didn’t meet Minnesota standards.
“It’s a model that uses and rejects workers at an alarming rate, without worrying too much about their health, economic security, well-being and the impact this has on our local communities,” said she declared.