In a leaked Amazon pamphlet obtained by Motherboard, the company describes warehouse workers as “industrial athletes” and details how its Working Well program will help workers by laying out guidelines to “prepare their bodies” for walking “up to 13 miles a day” or lifting “a total of 20,000 pounds” during a shift.
"Here at Amazon, you will become an industrial athlete. Just like an athlete who trains for an event, industrial athletes need to prepare their bodies to be able to perform their best at work," the pamphlet reads. "We want to make sure you feel your best while doing your best!" The pamphlets are from a Tulsa, Oklahoma, warehouse and date back to 2020, when the Working Well program was first piloted at various warehouses across the country.
The pamphlet then lays out six sections of interest to help prepare workers for laboring in a warehouse: nutrition, hydration, sleep, footwear, ergonomic work behavior, and injury prevention specialists. To wrap it up, there's a section simply titled "How Can I Feel Better?" that offers helpful tips such as stretching and getting a massage. The pamphlet, and the Working Well program, are part of a suite of recent Amazon initiatives aimed at improving its image as a brutal employer and getting the most out of workers, many of whom may be working in a physically demanding role for the first time.
A new report by the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of some of the country's largest labor unions, found that in 2020 Amazon workers were severely injured more than 24,000 times, twice the rate of the rest of the warehouse industry nationwide.
On the question of nutrition, the Amazon pamphlet urges its industrial athletes to eat well because they'll be burning about 400 calories every hour. "Fatigue is often a large factor in injuries," the pamphlet explains. It includes a bunch of nutrition tips as well, such as eating whole grains, having 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables, but also keeping sodium down and potassium up.
Officially, Amazon workers are allowed to take bathroom breaks, but many workers say they are often unable to take bathroom breaks because of the job’s breakneck pace and urinate in bottles or defecate in bags. Despite this, the pamphlet says to carry a water bottle all day, drink about two liters of water each day from it, and to "monitor your urine color." Workers are also advised to maintain a healthy sleep schedule as it's "extremely important for injury prevention, healing, and overall health.”
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Other recommended steps include tips such as buying shoes "at the end of the day when your feet are swollen to allow for plenty of room when they swell during work," or ensuring you are not using your back when exerting force during labor. The final step offers three injury prevention specialists who are athletic trainers that can provide tips to help with "body discomforts" that come with being an industrial athlete.
All of Amazon’s tips for avoiding injuries on the job also ignore the simplest fix: reducing the pace of work. Amazon is a particularly dangerous workplace precisely because it squeezes every worker for as much productivity as possible, at great risk of injury. This has resulted in an epidemic of muscle-related injuries that Amazon is now attempting to address, for example by deploying algorithms to coordinate which muscle groups are being exerted and creating “Zen Booths” for stressed out workers, even as managers “hire to fire” so they can hit certain turnover rate quotas.
Former Amazon worker Bobby Gosvenor, who worked in an Amazon warehouse in Tulsa, Oklahoma before receiving a serious injury on December 20 thanks to a malfunctioning conveyor belt, shared the pamphlet with Motherboard. At the time, he said in an interview, was told to ice what turned out to be a herniated disc and take some ibuprofen, but was expected to keep working for the next few weeks even as it became clear his injury was serious.
"I was being told to take my muscle relaxers at night, which was grueling during the day because the muscles were just spasming and I would have to breathe through them, sweat, get nauseated, it was just hurting so bad," Gosvenor told Motherboard. "But I pushed through, then on January 4, when peak season was over, I literally came into work that day, did my light duty job, went to the physician's appointment, went to the physical therapist, and came back thinking I was going to be back on light duty, and was told there's no work for me. I had clocked in that morning, clocked out to go to physical therapy, clocked back in and was being told there's no work for you."
Gosvenor had to have discs in his neck removed, fused with a plate secured with screws, and wore a collar securing his neck to limit movement. This process stretched months from January 4 to March 4, but was ultimately delayed and impeded even further by Amazon, he said.
“If Amazon needed the conveyor fixed within 24 hours or less, they would ship the parts overnight, put it in, and get going. For my situation, I had to go through two different surgeons to acknowledge that I did have a problem," Gosvenor said. "I got a call from Amazon's third party insurer saying Amazon requested a second opinion, extending things for another two months.”
“Amazon is so big that people getting hurt is really not a concern for them," Gosvenor added. "There was only one Amazon employee out of all the groups I had to deal with that said 'Hey Bobby, how are you feeling?' Not one of them picked up the phone, not a supervisor, not a manager, not a safety manager, not an AmCare manager, not a human resource manager. Nobody said, 'Hey let's pick up the phone and see how Bobby's doing after surgery.' It's very sterile."
In a statement to Motherboard, Amazon claimed that the pamphlet was created in error and that it was immediately removed. Gosvenor, however, told Motherboard that he first came across it in November 2020 and that he picked up a physical copy of the pamphlet at the Tulsa warehouse as recently as several weeks ago.
Update: This story was updated with comment from Amazon.