OSHA launches investigation into Amazon warehouses after three New Jersey workers died on the job over three weeks

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General scenes at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Robbinsville Township, New Jersey on Tuesday, August 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced early last week that it had opened investigations into Amazon facilities in New Jersey after three worker deaths were reported in three weeks. The results will not be announced until the end of the investigation, which could take up to six months.

In just three weeks, three workers employed at three different Amazon warehouses in New Jersey have died on the job. Each of these tragic deaths further exposes the appalling working conditions faced by Amazon workers and offers another illustration of the gross exploitation and callous indifference to life that characterizes the entire industry. logistics.

The first death came on July 13, the last day of Amazon’s two-day Prime Week, the biggest Prime Day event in the company’s history. Next, 42-year-old Rafael Reynaldo Mota Frias collapsed in the EWR9 warehouse in Carteret, New Jersey, and was later pronounced dead. According to friends, he was “a hardworking father…who was everything to this family.”

Several other workers employed at the distribution center said BNC News that the deceased worked as a ‘water spider’ – a physically demanding job that involved pushing trolleys loaded with goods to various workstations in the warehouse – and worked on an upper floor of the facility, known for its heat extreme. The temperature in Carteret on July 13 reached 92 degrees Fahrenheit.

For more than seven years, Prime Day has consistently driven record sales for Amazon, which rakes in billions of dollars by pushing workers beyond the limits of physical and mental exertion with breakneck speeds and forced overtime. The company recently announced that its profits improved by 40% after a lull in June.

According to the website Looking for Alpha“[t]The big rally followed quarterly results that showed better-than-expected revenue and better revenue guidance” from the company, a euphemism for increased labor exploitation.

Eleven days later, on July 24, a worker at Amazon’s PNE5 warehouse in Robbinsville suffered fatal injuries in a workplace accident. Early that morning, the worker allegedly fell from a three-foot ladder and hit his head in an open docking bay. The worker was taken to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton and died three days later. On August 4, an Amazon employee at the company’s DEY6 delivery station in Monroe Township died on the job.

For the most part, very little information regarding the three deaths has been released. “New investigations by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration bring fresh scrutiny to Amazon’s injury rates and workplace safety procedures, which have long been criticized by labor and safety advocates. security as inadequate,” noted a local ABC News affiliate.

Most details, including the names of the workers and the causes of each death, have been withheld from Amazon workers and the general public. OSHA said ongoing investigations prevent it from releasing more information.

The vastly understaffed and underfunded OSHA has done little to restrain the criminality of the ruling class in its relentless pursuit of profit. According to a 2021 report from the United States Department of Labor (OIG) Office of Inspector General, OSHA conducted 50% fewer on-site inspections and issued fewer than 300 COVID safety violations in 2020 as COVID devastated workplaces. This even though complaints about working conditions increased 15% and state workplace safety agencies issued five times as many citations and fines.

In 2020, OSHA actually rewrote its rules regarding COVID reporting to essentially give employers a blank check to allow the virus to spread among workers.

In the rare cases where OSHA has ruled against a company, it lets these multi-million and billion-dollar corporations run free with minimal fines (a few thousand dollars) and simple recommendations to improve working conditions. . In late April, OSHA ruled that Amazon’s DLI4 facility in Illinois, which collapsed in a massive tornado in December, “met minimum safety guidelines for shelter from storms” , despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The agency announced that it would not hold Amazon responsible for the deaths of six workers; all were forced to stay at work despite the known danger. OSHA simply recommended that Amazon “voluntarily take the steps necessary to eliminate or substantially reduce your employees’ exposure to the risk factors described above.”

The agency takes its orders from the Democratic Biden administration, which, contrary to all of Joe Biden’s campaign promises, continued and expanded the criminal and reactionary policies of his far-right predecessor.

Amazon said it was conducting its own investigations into the two most recent deaths. Company spokesman Sam Stephenson offered a cursory response, saying the company was “deeply saddened by the passing of one of our colleagues and extends our condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time. “.

Stephenson added, “As is standard protocol, we are conducting an internal investigation and cooperating with OSHA, which is also conducting its own independent review.” The company conducted an “internal investigation” into the first death in mid-July. Unsurprisingly, the inquest concluded that the death “was not a work-related incident, but rather related to a personal medical condition.”

The self-serving proclamation is contradicted by reports from workers at the settlement. A Reddit user, who indicated that he worked in EWR9, wrote in response to a message announcing the death of the first worker: “I am here to confirm that it is true… the people who take care of the morning/security didn’t know how to do CPR.” The worker stated that “if they had done CPR on him, he would have survived. He went to complain about the heat and they tried to help him and told him to get back to work. Most likely gave him an ice pack. Came to the building today and they have over 50 new heavy duty fans after [OSHA] came yesterday morning too.

The three New Jersey workers joined the ranks of tens of thousands of Amazon workers maimed and killed on the job each year in pursuit of profits for the multibillion-dollar company. According to a report by the Strategic Organizing Center, in 2021 Amazon employed “one-third of all warehouse workers in the United States, but it was responsible for nearly half (49%) of all injuries in the shipping industry. warehouses”. The injury rate in Amazon warehouses is said to be twice as high as the rate in non-Amazon warehouses in the logistics industry.

According to a recent report by the New Jersey Policy Perspective think tank, in New Jersey, where Amazon operates more than 50 facilities and employs approximately 40,000 workers, the overall injury rate at Amazon warehouses has increased by 54.3% in 2021 compared to 2020. In 2021, Amazon accounted for 47.3% of employment in New Jersey’s warehousing and storage industry, but 57.2% of serious injuries in this sector.

This crude exploitation provoked opposition from the workforce. Over the past two weeks, British Amazon workers have staged a series of wildcat strikes at facilities to oppose low wages amid rising inflation. On Monday, Amazon workers in San Bernardino, Calif., staged a strike over safety as well as low wages at the area’s air cargo hub.

Other companies have equally deplorable records. On June 25, United Parcel Service (UPS) driver Esteban Chavez, Jr., 24, collapsed inside his delivery van from heat stroke while working and later died. A UPS driver in New York has been reprimanded for taking a 47-second break to sip water amid an intense heat wave.

The fight to end preventable workplace deaths and injuries requires workers to take matters into their own hands by forming rank-and-file safety committees to lead a determined fight against the intolerable conditions created by the profit system. These committees must fight to unite Amazon workers in all warehouses, with all other logistics workers, with workers in all industries, and with workers everywhere.

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