NEW YORK, N.Y.—In what organizers called “a major moment of escalation,” workers at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse and shipping center on Staten Island on Nov. 25 delivered a petition to management signed by more than 600 workers, demanding more break time, safer working conditions, and free MetroCards for their lengthy commute.
“We’re standing up to demand longer paid breaks and better transit. We are humans and our bodies are not disposable,” worker Rina Cumming said in a statement released by organizers.“I work a 12-hour overnight shift from Thursday to Sunday, standing on my feet the entire time. During the middle of my shift all my joints often throb in pain, my fingertips become numb—my body demanding that I take a breather. Since my time at Amazon, I have developed digestive problems because I have to shove food down my throat, and then run back to my station. If I am late to my station, a robot will write me up.”
The rally to deliver the petition coincided with the release of a report, “Amazon’s Dangerous Jobs,” by protest organizers Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change.
Compiled from the company’s reports to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it said that the JFK8 facility in 2018 had a “recordable incident rate”—injuries significant enough to be reported to OSHA, requiring medical treatment beyond first aid—of 15.8 per 100 workers. That, the report said, is more than three times the national average for warehouse workers, and higher than the average for any occupational category monitored by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, including garbage collection, coal mining, and law enforcement.
The injuries they sustained were also more severe, the report added. The rate of workers who were hurt badly enough to miss days of work was 13.35 per 100—more than the 11.9 average for all injuries in nursing homes, the occupational category with the highest rate. Workers hurt on the job at JFK8 missed an average of 64 days of work, and 17 were unable to return to the job.
The facility employs more than 3,000 workers.
“Despite Amazon being one of the most powerful corporations in the world led by the wealthiest man alive, it runs warehouses with grueling inhumane conditions. Our report revealed that the Staten Island warehouse has a higher incidence of serious injury than notoriously dangerous industries like coal mining,” said Make the Road co-director Deborah Axt.
Amazon told the tech-news Website Gizmodo that the report was “selective data skewed to support false statements.” A company spokesperson told Gothamist that the high incident rate was due to it taking “an aggressive stance” on reporting injuries.
Unions participating in the rally included Amalgamated Transit Union locals, Communications Workers of America Local 1102, Teamsters Joint Council 16, and the New York City Central Labor Council. Staten Island elected officials included Rep. Rose, state Senator Diane Savino, and Assemblymember Charles Fall.
The length of their commute is another issue for workers. The center is located in an industrial park in the far west of Staten Island. The closest public transportation is the S40 bus line, which takes more than 40 stops to get there from the St. George ferry terminal. Before and after the half-hour ferry ride, some workers travel to and from as far as the Bronx and Jamaica, Queens.
“Every day I commute for two hours to arrive on Staten Island by 5 a.m., but my journey to work does not end there. I have to take a public bus for 47 stops to the Amazon facility, where I am expected to stand on my feet for 10 hours, working nonstop,” said Peter, a worker who did not want to give his last name. “The 15-minute breaks that are given to my coworkers and I are an insult to our hard work. Our labor profits the richest man in the world.”
The workers are calling on Amazon to collaborate with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, which represents MTA bus drivers on Staten Island, to expand express-bus routes between the ferry and the fulfillment center.