The following is a media release from Sen. Ed Markey and Sen Elizabeth Warren’s offices. Both were elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. Both are Democrats.
WASHINGTON DC – On October 14th, United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA-04) sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a letter expressing concern that, as evidence mounts of unsafe working conditions for Amazon warehouse workers, the company did not make meaningful changes to protect workers, but instead responded by rolling out PR campaigns and appearing to misrepresent workers’ injury risk to Congress and the public.
An investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting found that Amazon’s “obsession with speed has turned its warehouses into injury mills.”
This investigation found that “peak” periods like Prime Days and the period from a week before Thanksgiving through Christmas are particularly dangerous for Amazon warehouse workers, including workers in Massachusetts.
The lawmakers’ letter had expressed concern that Amazon has seemingly refused to consider reducing the speed at which Amazon workers must work or face disciplinary action.
“We are now at the beginning of another dangerous season for Amazon warehouse workers, and the company’s responses to repeated Congressional inquiries have only escalated our concern about Amazon’s unwillingness to value worker safety above corporate profit,” the lawmakers said. “Amazon could take immediate action to address the injury rate at warehouses – allowing the work to slow down and ending productivity monitoring — yet the company seems unwilling to address the root causes of high injury rates at their warehouses, or acknowledge a link between productivity demands and injuries.”
Despite these high injury rates, the company stated that Amazon’s Safety Review Board had never “recommended or considered decreasing target performance expectations as a party of an injury reduction plan,” and stated it believes decreasing targets “has not been necessary.”
Amazon previously told members of Congress that “Amazon does not use quotas,” but in the new response the company shared specific “target performance expectations.” As the company explains in the letter, “Amazon measures employee productivity by tracking the units per hour that employees process (e.g., units scanned per hour or units packaged per hour, depending on the assigned task).” Amazon told Members of Congress, “We always set targets at the 25th percentile performance (so that 75% of employees are already meeting or exceeding the target),” and, “adjusts targets in response to employees’ performance typically at least once every quarter.” This approach appears to be a set of quotas that are simply rebranded with company-specific lingo.
Amazon’s response also indicated that the company tracked and monitored workers’ activity in real time, and fired more than two dozen workers at the Fall River, MA facility this year based on “Time off Task” (ToT) metrics. In its response, the company wrote that, “Amazon measures the amount of time employees spend working on their assigned tasks during their shift via the scanners that workers use to scan items, bins, and packages. ToT is only tracked once five minutes or more of unplanned time elapses between activity on the scanners, and that time is aggregated into a ToT total for the day.”
The lawmakers stated: “Amazon’s performance expectations are setting workers up to fail – at an extraordinary human cost. Their response to our letter, and other oversight letters this year, portray an environment rich for dangerous working conditions: One-fourth of employees are perpetually behind performance targets by design; workers face consequences if they spend more than five minutes without using a scanner; workers’ activity is being constantly tracked and monitored by managers in real time; and workers know termination is possible if those constantly-monitored metrics aren’t met — and all of this in an environment with industry-high levels of worker injuries.”
“In my experience, Amazon cares more about enforcing Rate and ToT policy than they do about curbing the spread of the virus. The executives who are safe at home force people like me to work at very high speeds, risking our health while Jeff Bezos gets closer to being a trillionaire. As we enter into what we call the ‘turkey apocalypse’, I challenge anyone who wants to take Amazon at their word to join me on my shift, to get the truth behind its PR tactics,” said Courtenay Brown, United for Respect Leader and Amazon associate from New Jersey.
The company also indicated that Amazon stops safety pilot programs during “peak” periods – because the company “view[s] this is a critical time for our customers and experimentation or operational changes of any kind are not allowed.” It is not clear why Amazon does not consider this a “critical time” for Amazon employees given the higher injury rates.
Amazon also did not refute the Reveal findings that there have been year-over-year increases in injuries at their warehouse in Fall River, MA. The report from Reveal found that warehouse’s rate of lost-time injuries “was more than 50% higher in 2019 compared with 2018 and six times the industry average.” In a January 6, 2020 letter to Congress, Amazon claimed warehouse injury rates were higher than industry average because of Amazon’s diligence in reporting lost time injuries, but Reveal found that the company has employed strategies to evade injury recording requirements. In its November 1, 2020 letter, the company cited only two examples of adjusting performance targets to address these high injury rates at the Fall River, MA facility based on employee feedback, but in one example it seems targets were never adjusted — workers were simply exempted from corrective action by management.
Amazon also declined to answer whether teams at Amazon responsible for “performance expectations and effectiveness” monitor intake with Amazon Onsite Medical Representatives.