New York, NY – Another metropolitan area man who lost his job after he dared challenge Amazon’s piss-poor treatment of its warehouse employees is speaking out this week — just in time for the notoriously anti-union retail giant to be welcomed back onto National COSH’s annual list of “Dirty Dozen” employers.
David Jamel Williams told LaborPress on Wednesday that unionizing workers at the Edison, New Jersey “fulfillment center” where he worked prior to suffering an on-the-job eye injury, “would benefit the culture and climate of that place.”
“While there, I definitely witnessed the immense amount of pressure to perform that was placed on employees,” Williams said on a conference call with reporters. “Amazon definitely cared more about the speed at which they were able to push out their products and push out their services then the conditions, health or welfare the employees doing the work for them.”
According to Williams, the need for speed inside the Amazon warehouse is so great that when a damaged parcel leaking chemicals splashed him in the eye, managers immediately urged him back to work and then dragged their feet in properly recording the incident, and even going so far as to initially refusing to furnish him with a copy of the accident report, which he signed, on the grounds that it was an “Amazon document.”
Former Amazon worker Rashad Long was fired from his Staten Island “fulfillment center” job on February 12, after speaking out about oppressive warehouse conditions and allegedly running afoul of a company robot while picking up a loose package inside a “no-humans zone.”
Amazon has a demonstrated track record of putting workers in harm’s way. According to National COSH, six workers have died in the last six months alone; more than a dozen have died since 2013.
National COSH’s 2019 list of “Dirty Dozen” Employers Who Failed to Protect Workers from Preventable Illness, Injury and Death is being released in conjunction with Workers Memorial Week and includes, Amazon; Atlantic Capes Fisheries And BJ’s Services; Bedrock Detroit; Beiza Brothers; Facebook And Accenture, Cognizant, Prounlimited And Tech Solutions; Genan; Integra Health Management, Inc.; Johns Hopkins Hospital; McDonald’s USA; Purdue Pharma and the Opioid Industry; Tooma Enterprises; and XPO Logistics.
According to National COSH, employees attempting to earn a living at the aforementioned companies were instead subjected to a plethora of on the job horrors including sexual harassment, dismemberment, miscarriage and murder.
Nationwide, the number of workers killed or grievously injured on the job is trending upward. In 2017, traumatic injuries took the lives of 5,147 workers — an 11-percent increase over the five years prior.
“That number doesn’t include occupational illness and fatalities,” National COSH Co-Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb said. “There were over 95,000 workers each year who die from longterm illnesses such as cancer or heart disease caused by workplace exposures. In addition, over 3 million men and women suffered non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses.”
Looking behind these numbers is equally sobering, Goldstein-Gelb added because most of the deaths and injuries could have been prevented with “well known, basic safety measures.”
OSHA — the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration — is in business to safeguard workers by ensuring employers comply with safety health requirements. But under the Trump administration, resources are being slashed and whole programs scrapped.
With just 875 OSHA inspectors to cover 9 million workplaces, it would take the department 158 years to inspect every workplace in its jurisdiction. The Fiscal Year 2020 budget, meanwhile, calls for the elimination of two critical safety programs: OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Program and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
“We also want to highlight the fact that some workers disproportionally suffer injury or death,” Goldstein-Gelb said. “They include workers in the increasingly expanding temporary contingent or day and gig work. That dramatically increases the risk for workers — as evidenced by the fact that fatalities among contracted workers increased by 50 percent since 2011.”
Nearly a third of those workers killed on the job were members of the Latinx community — a number far greater than their representation in the workforce.
“When workers lack security in their workplaces; when they fear that they’ll lose their job if they speak up about hazards or injuries — you’re creating the perfect storm for death and serious injury,” Goldstein-Gelb said.
Last year, National COSH removed home improvement giant Loews from the “Dirty Dozen” list after the corporation agreed to stop selling products containing Methylene Chloride and a related substance. Goldstein-Gelb said other companies priestly on the “Dirty Dozen” list can get off it, too —if they start listening to the safety concerns of workers.
“The most effective way for [companies] to continue to be profitable and effective is to respond to those concerns that are being raised, and to create injury and illness prevention programs,” she said. “To create safety and health programs where workers are at the table, and are able to report those injuries and have them free of retaliation. Again, another pattern we’re seeing across the country is punishment for speaking up.”
Williams said that Amazon managers came down on him in Edison after he started speaking out about poor working conditions and the need for workers to organize.
“This is not an uncommon situation that happens at Amazon,” he said. “Employees are pressured to be quiet.”
Significantly, when members of the New York City Council grilled Amazon Vice-President Brian Huseman about the company’s stance on unionization, two weeks before Amazon ultimately scrapped plans for a second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens — the exec essentially refused to commit to card check neutrality, insisting that a “direct connection with employees is the best way to “respond to the concerns of the workforce.”
XPO Logistics also appears to share Amazon’s aversion to unionization. When workers in Memphis, Tennessee, began agitating for a union, former worker Tasha Morrell said the company announced it’s plans to close up shop.
“I feel that everybody should have the opportunity to have collective bargaining,” Morrell said this week. “My coworkers, in 2018, called for the union. They wanted the union in the building. [But] as a result of them wanting to get the union — the XPO business is closing. Instead of them trying to help and correct their wrongs, they’d rather close the building. Now, over 200 of my ex-coworkers will be out of a job. That’s just really sad.”