“We are Not Robots” : Amazon Workers Demand Better Labor Conditions
Thu, April 22, 2021

“We are Not Robots” : Amazon Workers Demand Better Labor Conditions

In the US, the day after Thanksgiving Day is called Black Friday. It is considered the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and is an important day, especially in the retail industry / Photo by: JoeInQueens via Wikimedia Commons

 

In the US, the day after Thanksgiving Day is called Black Friday. It is considered the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and is an important day, especially in the retail industry, as millions of shoppers head to stores or search online to find the best deals. It is also during Black Friday that American e-commerce company Amazon provides its Prime members with faster service. 

Amazon Workers Hold a Rally to Demand Improved Labor Conditions

Many Amazon workers, however, use the occasion of Black Friday to demand better labor conditions. These workers are joining nationwide forces to demand increased government scrutiny towards the business practices of Amazon and for them to have improved labor conditions, reports American news platform Vox.

Over 600 Amazon workers at Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center, which is one of the company’s largest warehouses located in New York City and run with help from robots, recently signed a petition to protest their current working conditions. Among their demands are increased break time, which would be three 30-minute breaks during their 10-plus hour work shift instead of the current one 30-minute lunch break and two 15-minute break times, and better transit benefits.

Many Amazon workers, however, use the occasion of Black Friday to demand better labor conditions / Photo by: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

 

High Injury Rates in the Staten Island Facility

Based on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) documents, the Staten Island facility had higher injury rates than other warehouses in the country. Nonprofit, immigrant-led organization Make the Road shared that the e-commerce company is experiencing an “injury crisis” because its workers’ injury rates are three times higher than the industry average. Yet, it remains unclear how the injury cases are measured compared to other Amazon warehouses. OSHA documents further reveal that a worker in the Staten Island fulfillment center is more likely to get injured in 2018 than a steel foundry or a sawmill.

In an interview with business and entertainment news provider New York Post, former Amazon fulfillment center employee Maureen Donnelly, 46, shared that her work with the warehouse was “cult-like.” Although she was not afraid of hard work because of her other previous jobs, such as a newsroom clerk and a waitress before joining Amazon, she felt like she was in the army while working in the warehouse. 

While she was in her station attending to the “endless line of yellow racks,” she was told to always bring her water bottle, bend at the knees and not the waist when stocking items, and use Skechers shoes to withstand the long hours of standing. There were no chairs and the only place to sit was in the bathroom. Since she also had to stay hydrated, she had to pee, and employees are required to always inform their manager about their bathroom breaks so they can cut the minutes into their breaks. It would also normally take her 15 minutes to walk to the lunchroom, so she would only have the remaining 15 minutes to eat. The building is also hot, but when people asked for fans, the management denied it because they were told the robots don’t function well in a cold environment.

“Workers are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious, and being taken away in ambulances,” said UK GMB Union national officer Mick Rix. GMB Union organized the protests at the company’s warehouses across the UK. Rix added that the Amazon workers wanted CEO Jeff Bezos to know that they are not robots. Some GMB members reported that they even use plastic bottles to urinate instead of going to the toilet, and even pregnant women were forced to stand for hours, the union statement reads.

Another employee from Amazon’s Eastvale center shared she had to scan and place more than 300 items per hour on racks to meet her daily quota. Yet, after just two months on the job, she was diagnosed with chronic pain, joint inflammation, and back sprain.

Labor Statistics: Non-Fatal Occupational Injuries

The International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency whose mandate is to advance social justice and promote decent work by setting international labor standards, shares that more than one million work-related deaths occur annually, based on the hundreds of workers in the world who suffer from workplace accidents and occupational exposure to hazardous substances worldwide.

Meanwhile, the number of non-fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 workers in America from 2010 to 2016 are as follows: 2010 (1,100), 2011 (1,000), 2012 (1,000), 2013 (1,000), 2014 (1,000), 2015 (900), 2016 (900).

Countries with the lowest record of non-fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 workers in 2018 include Azerbaijan (1), Panama (2.6), Myanmar (8.6), Uzbekistan (10.1), and Sri Lanka (12.4).

Based on the records obtained by Vox, weekly injury cases in Amazon spiked during Prime Day and Cyber Monday periods. These are the days wherein Amazon provided special deals to its shoppers. Protesters among the Staten Island workers were backed by nationwide alliance Athena, which is composed of three dozen activist organizations, too. 

Last year, Amazon workers in Europe warehouses staged walkouts and strikes during the two holidays as their way of protesting the poor working conditions and wages. If the US employees will continue to disrupt the work schedules, it would also hurt the e-commerce company, especially during its busiest sales weeks.