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Amazon facilities cited for workplace safety violations in ongoing federal probe

Amazon's ALB1 facility in Schodack, NY
Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
Amazon's ALB1 facility in Schodack is being investigated by OSHA and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

Amazon has been cited by the federal government for workplace safety violations at three of its warehouses. One facility cited is located in Orange County, and another, in Rensselaer County, is being investigated.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced citations Wednesday for Amazon distribution centers in New Windsor, New York, Florida, and Illinois.

The facilities were inspected as part of an ongoing probe into the retailer’s safety practices in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

OSHA Assistant Secretary Doug Parker outlined the citations in a call with reporters.

“Our investigations determined warehouse workers are required to perform tasks at a fast pace including manually lifting items from trailer trailers, removing packages from a conveyor and stacking them from floor to ceiling, and other tasks that require workers to work in awkward positions that make them prone to injuries. These tasks were performed up to nine times a minute for hours at a time at some facilities buts Amazon workers at a high risk of musculoskeletal injuries,” said Parker.

Pointing to OSHA’s DART rate, which provides an index of recordable workplace injuries, Parker said Amazon’s national injury rate is 9 per 100 workers. The national average for warehouse workers is 4.7 per 100 workers. The DART rate at the New Windsor facility is 14.7 per 100. DART stands for Days Away, Restricted and Transfer.

“Injury rates like this should get a company’s attention and they should be working proactively to understand the root causes of those injuries and address them,” said Parker. “And yet Amazon continues to operate business as usual, creating unsafe work environments and failing to protect its employees.”

Citations totaling more than $60,000 were issued for violations of the general duty clause in the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Inspections for the three facilities cited on Wednesday were performed in July of last year. Similar inspections took place at other facilities, including Amazon’s ALB1 facility in Schodack in August, where workers unsuccessfully sought to unionize two months later.

Attorney Seth Goldstein, who is representing the Amazon Labor Union, was not surprised by Wednesday’s announcement.

“It confirms what we’ve been saying all along, that this is the 2023 version of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, that every day there is some type of human rights violation, as far as safety is concerned, for employees. We have our own OSHA charges in with the Department of Labor for ALB1 and we also have retaliation charges under OSHA at JFK8,” said Goldstein.

Employees at ALB1 made health and safety a focus in their push for unionization.

Speaking with WAMC in October during a rally outside the Rensselaer County facility, employee Sam Molik, who was on workers’ compensation leave after a head injury, said his complaints went unheard.

“All they tell you is we’re working on it…well, OK it’s been a month and a half. Why isn’t that fire extinguisher replaced? I told you three weeks ago about hardhats and I just got injured and there’s still no hardhats here,” said Molik.

Amazon rejected OSHA’s findings and said it would appeal. The retailer said in a statement it takes the safety and health of its employees “very seriously.”

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the retailer has “cooperated fully,” adding the charges brought by OSHA “don’t reflect the reality of safety at our sites.”

Nantel said the company has reduced injury rates by 15 percent between 2019 and 2021 and that it plans to share during its appeal its “numerous safety innovations, process improvements, and investments” to further reduce injuries, adding Amazon will “never stop working to be safer” for its employees.

Meantime, lawyers for ALU workers at JFK8 on Staten Island are ready for Amazon to come to the bargaining table. The company had objected to the union vote last spring until the results were upheld earlier this month by the National Labor Relations Board. Again, attorney Seth Goldstein.

“The game is over. You need to come to the table and bargain in good faith like you’re required to under the law,” said Goldstein.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.