Amazon has long been under fire for the demanding targets it imposes on its workers. Now a new survey adds more detail on the impact these goals appear to be having on employees’ physical and mental health. It comes as the US Labor Department fined Amazon $60,000 on Wednesday for failing to ensure the safety of workers at three US warehouses.
Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) inspectors found workers at Amazon warehouses in Deltona, Florida; Waukegan, Illinois; and New Windsor, New York, a “high risk of lower back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders associated with the high frequency with which workers must lift packages and other objects; the heavy weight of the items; awkward postures such as twisting, bending, and lifting long distances; and many hours required to complete assigned tasks.”
“Each of these inspections found work processes designed for speed but not safety, and resulted in serious injuries to workers,” Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker said in a statement. “While Amazon has developed impressive systems to ensure its customers’ orders are shipped efficiently and quickly, the company has not shown the same level of commitment to protecting the safety and well-being of its employees.”
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In a statement, Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said Amazon “disagrees completely” with the Labor Department’s assessment and intends to appeal. “The government’s allegations do not reflect the reality of safety at our sites. Over the past few months, we’ve demonstrated the extent to which we work every day to mitigate risk and protect our employees, and our publicly available data shows that we reduced injury rates by nearly 15% between 2019 and 2021 Majority of our employees tell us that they feel safe in our workplace.”
The new survey, made available exclusively to TIME, was conducted by labor-focused communications agency Jarrow Insights on behalf of UNI Global Union, a workers’ rights group. The survey includes more than 2,000 professed Amazon workers in eight countries.
More than half of respondents (51%) said Amazon’s monitoring of their productivity at work had a negative impact on their physical health. A slightly larger percentage of respondents, 57%, indicated that the company’s surveillance had a negative impact on their mental health. “I was harassed for not meeting my targets, daily negative feedback,” said one respondent, who said he was a UK-based warehouse worker with wrist problems. “I had to explain why, despite the doctor’s advice not to overexert my hands, I was not able to achieve the goals. Now I’m free again.”
“I was texted the day I got back from the loss of my son,” wrote a self-identified US warehouse worker.
In a statement, Amazon spokesman Steve Kelly disputed the methodology of the survey. “This online survey was funded and administered by union groups who maintain false information to feed their own narratives,” he said. “The result is loaded, statistically insignificant, and contradicts what our own staff are telling us directly. In our most recent internal survey, conducted randomly and anonymously, nearly 9 out of 10 of our colleagues say they feel safe at work and that their managers do everything they can to ensure their safety.”
It’s true that the Jarrow Insights survey was not random – it was distributed via online ads targeted at people who identified on social media as working for Amazon or who were geographically located at Amazon facilities (which made up 75% of the answers). According to a spokesman for Jarrow Insights about reaching out to employee organizations (7.6%) (the rest came from employees who shared the survey with colleagues). Respondents were asked to identify themselves whether they were a warehouse worker, delivery driver, or office worker. However, as Jarrow Insights’ spokesperson tells TIME, the group intentionally built a sample size larger than statistically required to mitigate potential problems due to the targeted approach of the survey design. Furthermore, the spokesperson said, they do not claim that the results represent all Amazon workers, only those survey respondents who identified themselves as Amazon workers.
With more than 1.6 million employees worldwide, Amazon is the fifth largest employer in the world. It is also the fifth most valuable public company in the world with a market cap of nearly $1 trillion. In a statement, UNI Global Union criticized Amazon’s workplace practices. “By examining the responses as a whole, a clear picture emerges across countries and roles,” said a UNI Global Union spokesman in a statement accompanying the survey. “The majority of workers surveyed expressed their belief that Amazon’s monitoring of their job performance is excessive and opaque, that their expectations are unrealistic, and that striving to meet these unrealistic expectations is having a negative impact on their physical health and, worse, on their health their sanity has sanity.”
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It’s not the first assessment that Amazon’s worker safety is lacking. Last March, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Amazon’s home state of Washington accused the retail giant of “knowingly putting workers at risk of injury” to their backs, shoulders, wrists and knees. “Many jobs at Amazon involve repetitive movements, lifting, carrying, turning and other physical labor,” the regulator’s report said. “Workers need to complete these tasks so quickly that the risk of injury increases.” Amazon disputes the findings and is now suing this regulator for failing to prove a violation of safety or health regulations.
The report, compiled by UNI Global Union, paints a picture of the different ways Amazon and its outsourcing partners monitor their employees as a means of tracking productivity.
In Amazon warehouses, the report says, workers are monitored with handheld scanners and ID card swiping. Break times, the report says, are measured from the time a handheld scanner scans its last item before a break and the first item after it, regardless of where the worker is in the warehouse.
According to the report, workers with irritable bowel syndrome who spend prolonged periods in the restroom reported “friction” with Amazon’s “work break” policies. “Today I received an ‘unaccounted idle time’ write-down for my IBS,” reported a self-proclaimed US warehouse worker. “I’m constantly being harassed about not being able to work or taking bathroom breaks because of my illness.”
Delivery drivers — often employed by third-party contractors — report being tracked via GPS devices and cameras in their vehicles. The report also notes that nearly two-thirds of respondents who identified themselves as delivery drivers reported a “negative” impact on their physical health as a result of Amazon surveillance.
One respondent said the targets also posed a risk to the community. “I feel like I’m drowning all day which causes me to drive in unsafe ways to meet unreasonable expectations[s]’ said a self-proclaimed Amazon delivery driver from the US in response to the survey.
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