Pols, advocates rally against Amazon distribution site
by Benjamin Fang
Dec 17, 2019 | 7522 views | 0 0 comments | 297 297 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Although Amazon’s HQ2 in Long Island City never came to fruition, the tech company is still expanding its presence in New York City.

Earlier this month, the company opened a distribution center in Woodside, and announced that it would lease office space in Hudson Yards.

According to reports, Amazon is also planning to open a distribution center in the South Bronx, another site in Maspeth, and a logistics facility in Sunset Park’s Industry City.

On Monday, local elected officials joined immigrant rights and labor groups outside the new Woodside distribution center to rally against Amazon’s record on safety.

“For too long, Amazon has been able to get away with treating workers like robots,” said Juan Goris, a community organizer with Make the Road New York. “Workers leave their warehouses in pain everyday.

“We must put an end to these inhumane working conditions,” he added, “which thousands of New Yorkers have to endure everyday.”

Make the Road and New York Communities for Change, which hosted the rally on Monday, are part of the Athena Coalition, a national coalition of labor and racial justice groups “taking on monopoly powers” according to Make the Road lead organizer Angeles Solis.

The group released a 26-page report called “Packaging Pain,” which documents workplace injuries inside Amazon’s facilities.

The report found that in 2018, the injury rate at Amazon’s warehouses was 10.76 per 100 workers, which is three times as high as the injury rate across all private employers. That number is twice as high as the rate in the warehousing industry.

The coalition also reported that 88.9 percent of Amazon workers who were injured had to miss work or be placed on restricted duty. They missed an average of five-and-a-half weeks to recover.

According to Goris, the week of December 10 to December 16 is the most dangerous week for Amazon distribution center workers, with the injury rate twice as high as the annual average.

To make the workplace safer, the report recommended that Amazon reduce the speed of work, provide adequate medical care, allow workers to better understand the risks they are exposed to, and engage with worker-led health and safety committees.

State Senator Jessica Ramos, who in February also rallied at the Woodside site, said it’s “incomprehensible” that one of the richest corporations in the world does not provide safety standards that protect workers.

“Let it serve as a warning to my neighbors,” she said. “Even though we’re getting new jobs, the standard in our district is for these to be good jobs.

“Not just any jobs will do,” added Ramos, who chairs the Senate’s Labor Committee. “We need every single person’s dignity to be respected.”

Councilman Costa Constantinides added that if Amazon wants to be in western Queens, they have to work with the city’s union rules.

“This is a union town,” he said. “We will not sit by while workers are being mistreated.”

The rally also provided an opportunity for former warehouse workers from Staten Island to share their stories about workplace conditions.

Staten Island resident Ilya, 33, worked at Amazon between May and September this year. He said the technology the company employs puts workers “in the line of fire” for injuries.”

“Every single moment that you’re in there, they got it calculated,” he said. “They want you touching an item, depending on your job, between two and 10 seconds.”

Ilya, who worked at the JFK8 fulfillment center, said some 600 workers have signed a petition asking for “the most basic of things,” like increased break times throughout the day.

Though workers get a half-hour for lunch, they spend half of the time just walking to and from their work station. Ilya said workers don’t have time to go to the bathroom because of Amazon’s “Time Off Task” metric.

“They can say you didn’t have a scan for one minute and you can get fired,” he said. “We’re just demanding basic dignity.”

The former Staten Island worker said the company “works very hard” to prevent its warehouse employees from having any time to talk to each other, between the lack of breaks and the pace of work.

“That’s on purpose, they don’t want us to come together or unionize,” Ilya said. “They don’t want us to act together to improve our workplace.”

In response to the rally, an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement that no current Amazon associates participated in the event.

“It was obvious to the hundreds of individuals who work in our building that an outside organization used our site to raise its own visibility and spread misinformation,” the spokesperson said. “The fact is that Amazon provides a safe, quality work environment in which associates are the heart and soul of the customer experience, and today’s event, and the notable lack of Amazon employee participation, shows that associates know this to be true.”

Addressing workplace injuries, the spokesperson said it’s “inaccurate” to say that fulfillment centers are unsafe.

Amazon recognized that there’s a dramatic level of under-recording of safety incidents across the industry, the spokesperson said, and the company has taken an “aggressive” stance on recording injuries, no matter how big or small.

As for the “Packaging Pain” report, the spokesperson said last year Amazon provided more than one million hours of safety training to employees and invested more than $55 million on safety improvement projects, including ergonomic improvements.

“The report was developed and promoted by a collection of self-interested critics,” the spokesperson said. “The fact is nothing is more important to us than safety.”
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