A new report shows that Amazon accounted for about half of the serious injuries suffered by U.S. warehouse workers last year, which could bolster the argument for a shareholder resolution that will be brought to an investor vote next month.
The injury rate of 6.8 for every 100 workers at Amazon.com Inc.
warehouses in 2021 was more than double that of 3.3 per 100 workers at non-Amazon warehouses, according to a report released by the Strategic Organizing Center this week. The group, which is an alliance of four labor unions, based its analysis on injury data Amazon submitted to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).
Amazon employed 33% of U.S. warehouse workers last year and accounted for 49% of all injuries, the group’s report found. The total number of injuries to Amazon workers was nearly 40,000, an increase of 20% from the previous year.
Through a spokeswoman, the company attributed the increased injuries to its hiring of tens of thousands more workers to help meet demand during the coronavirus pandemic, and said it is continuing to make improvements in keeping employees safe.
“Like other companies in the industry, we saw an increase in recordable injuries during this time from 2020 to 2021 as we trained so many new people — however, when you compare 2021 to 2019, our recordable injury rate declined more than 13% year over year,” said Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, in an emailed statement.
But after years of tracking the company’s injury rates, the SOC said its findings are nothing new. This is the fifth year in a row that Amazon warehouse injury rates have been significantly higher than those elsewhere, the group said.
“Amazon’s obsession with speed has played a role in driving its injury rates higher,” the group said in its report.
The report’s findings align with Amazon workers’ concerns as they increasingly try to unionize, as well as those of shareholders who care about the well-being of the workers and the long-term success of the company.
“We’re trying to echo what [workers are] asking for,” said Constance Ricketts, head of shareholder activism at Tulipshare, one of two shareholder groups that submitted proposals calling for Amazon to agree to an independent audit of the working conditions and policies at the company’s warehouses.
Both shareholder groups cited studies similar to the SOC’s, including accounts of unsafe and unfair working conditions for warehouse employees. Those include quotas that force them to work at a very fast pace as well as surveillance by the company.
Ricketts added: “In addition to the moral imperative related to human capital management… for shareholders looking for long-term returns, how can the company keep on moving if they run out of workers?”
Amazon argued against including the proposals for a third-party audit on its proxy this year. But in a letter responding to the company dated April 6, the Securities and Exchange Commission said the company could not exclude one of the proposals based on Amazon’s argument that it pertains to ordinary business matters.
“In our view, [the proposal] transcends ordinary business matters,” the SEC wrote.
Amazon was forced to include the Tulipshare proposal in its proxy and investors will vote on it at the company’s May 25 annual general meeting.
“It’s the first time Amazon investors will be able to vote on [warehouse] workers’ rights issues,” said Jenna Armitage, chief marketing officer for Tulipshare, who called it a “major win” for those trying to fight for workers rights.
In its proxy, Amazon’s board of directors recommended the shareholders vote against the proposal. The board said it already is “directly and meaningfully engaged in oversight of employee well-being and workplace safety.” It cited commitments of $300 million to non-COVID safety projects in 2021, and said the company has incurred billions of dollars in costs related to keeping its employees safe and delivering for its customers during the pandemic. The board also touted “thousands of safety inspections” daily across the company’s network and more.
In Tulipshare’s talks with Amazon on the issue, Ricketts said the company responded to the complaints or reports the group cited by offering its own internal reports that paint a prettier picture. That is why a third-party audit is necessary, she said.
Tulipshare also plans to work with other groups to urge large institutional shareholders in the company to vote for the group’s proposal.
“We can’t rely on Amazon to police themselves anymore,” Ricketts said. “They’ve made that very clear.”