Michael Sainato, The Guardian:
Vickie Shannon Allen, 49, started working at Amazon as a counter in a fulfillment warehouse at Haslet, Texas, in May 2017. At first, like many employees, Allen was excited by the idea of working for one of the fastest growing corporations in the world. That feeling dissipated quickly after a few months.
“I noticed managers would ask you questions all the time about any bathroom breaks, performance and productivity. What they do is code your time, and they are allowed to change it at will. To me, that’s how they get rid of people,” Allen said.
A Guardian investigation has revealed numerous cases of Amazon workers suffering from workplace accidents or injuries in its gigantic warehouse system and being treated in ways that leave them homeless, unable to work or bereft of income.
Allen’s story began on 24 October last year when she injured her back counting goods on a workstation that was missing a brush guard, a piece of safety equipment meant to prevent products from falling onto the floor. She used a tote bin to try to compensate for the missing brush guard, and hurt her back while counting in an awkward position. The injury was the beginning of an ongoing ordeal she is still working to amend at Amazon.
“By June 2018, they finally had that station fixed. It took them eight months to put one little brush guard on this station,” Allen said. On 2 July, she met with management at the Amazon fulfillment center, who offered her a week of paid leave for the issues she had to deal with over the past nine months.
“They’re also going to pay me for 24 more hours for last week. They haven’t said anything else,” Allen explained. ”They offered me a buyout, only for $3,500, which meant I would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement to not say anything derogatory about Amazon or my experience.”
Allen said she rejected the buyout offer to speak out against Amazon’s treatment of her. She currently lives out of her car in the parking lot of the Amazon fulfillment center.
Allen’s case is one of numerous reports from Amazon workers of being improperly treated after an avoidable work injury. Amazon’s warehouses were listed (PDF) on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s “dirty dozen” list of most dangerous places to work in the United States in April 2018. The company made the list due to its pattern of unsafe working conditions and its focus on productivity and efficiency over the safety and livelihood of its employees. Amazon’s emphasis on fulfilling a high demand of orders has resulted in unsafe working conditions for its warehouse employees.
At an Amazon Fulfillment Center in Pennsylvania, one former employee was fired five weeks after getting injured on the job. “I was on a ladder and someone came flying into the area I was in, hit the ladder causing me to fall, and I landed on my back and left leg,” said Christina Miano-Wilburn. Her back is permanently injured from the incident. “They refused to give me the paperwork for workmen’s comp. They cut my short term disability after five weeks. I was supposed to get it for 26 weeks.”
Miano-Wilburn was notified of her job termination through a letter in the mail in May 2017 after working at Amazon for two years. She lost her home shortly after being fired from Amazon.
Other Amazon employees succumb to the fatigue and exhaustion of the fulfillment center work environment and quit before getting injured. “I felt they thought I was faking. I was dehydrated and dizzy,” said Lindsai Florence Johnson, who was taken away in an ambulance in April during a hot day while working at an Amazon fulfillment center in San Bernardino, California. She quit in May 2018 over mistreatment after starting in June 2017.
In many cases, Amazon workers are left to deal with the temp agency that hired them, shifting the burden of responsibility to a third party and making it more difficult for workers to receive proper treatment and compensation.
Amazon meanwhile insists that ensuring the safety of its workers is a priority and that it was “proud” of its record.