Bernie Sanders in the Senate HELP Committee. Image Credit: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images
Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), is launching an investigation into “dangerous and illegal” conditions at Amazon warehouses, according to an announcement on Tuesday. The investigation is the latest in a series of federal actions taken against Amazon, including citations and fines by the Department of Labor at six warehouses around the country.
Sanders sent a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy on Tuesday to initiate the committee’s investigation into the conditions that the company’s workers face. “Amazon is well aware of these dangerous conditions, the life-altering consequences for workers injured on the job, and the steps the company could take to reduce the significant risks of injury,” Sanders wrote. “Yet the company has made a calculated decision not to implement adequate worker protections because Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, and you, his successor as Chief Executive Officer, have created a corporate culture that treats workers as disposable.”Motherboard has previously extensively reported on the conditions faced by Amazon workers, which one employee described as “grueling.” In 2022, the company’s annual turnover rate was reported to be 150 percent for warehouse and storage employees. Sanders’ letter references a report by the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC) that found Amazon workers in the U.S. suffered around 39,000 injuries in 2022, over 36,000 of which were serious enough that the workers were unable to perform their regular jobs or had to lose time.
“Mr. Jassy, there is only one explanation for Amazon’s repeated failure to protect its warehouse workers: unacceptable corporate greed,” Sanders wrote. The letter gives Jassy a deadline of July 5 to provide explanations for the company’s injury rates despite having been given “straightforward measures” to improve worker safety, its higher reported injury rates in robotics-equipped warehouses, and the estimated cost per warehouse of adding safety features like vacuum lifts and height-adjustable carts to help workers in moving heavy objects during their approximately 10-hour-long shifts. For each of these safety measures not currently in use in at least half of Amazon's warehouses, the company must “provide a written explanation of why Amazon has chosen not to fully implement the safety measure,” the letter continues. It then asks for data from AMCARE, the name given to Amazon’s in-house urgent care clinic, which was reported to endanger workers with its staff’s incompetence, the letter states. “We’ve reviewed the letter and strongly disagree with Senator Sanders’ assertions,” Amazon spokesperson Steve Kelly told Motherboard in a statement. “We take the safety and health of our employees very seriously. There will always be ways to improve, but we’re proud of the progress we’ve made which includes a 23 percent reduction in recordable injuries across our U.S. operations since 2019. We’ve invested more than $1 billion into safety initiatives, projects, and programs in the last four years, and we’ll continue investing and inventing in this area because nothing is more important than our employees’ safety.” Kelly also said that Amazon had appealed all citations from the Department of Labor, and that it disagreed with the SOC’s report, noting that it was a coalition of three labor unions. This marks the HELP committee’s second investigation into a company well-known for anti-union activity. Earlier this year, it called on former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to testify about his company’s activity in response to worker organizing. When asked by the Washington Post if he planned to call on Jassy to testify, Sanders said it was an “absolute possibility.”Update: this piece has been updated with comment from Amazon.