By Blake Garrison
At its PIT5 sortation center in Crafton, PA, Amazon uses many tools of misdirection to hide how endangering workers is inherent to their operations as a result of daily exploitation.
Its most recent trick is launching the “Associate Safety Committee” (ASC), which purports to improve safety by enlisting some workers to wear special vests and walk around checking for unsafe conditions. In reality, the ASC is a tactic to feign concern for safety and increase surveillance by using workers as supplemental supervisors, pitting workers against each other.
The ASC is instructed to check for things like poorly built pallets and fallen boxes and criticize workers for these issues. But the bad state of pallets, notorious among the workers, is primarily due to two things: lack of training for new hires and the close tracking of the rates at which items are being scanned, which pressures workers to stack packages quickly rather than carefully.
But poorly-built pallets are not the main source of injuries for workers, and neither are workers’ lack of safety shoes or pushing carts incorrectly. Amazon’s “safety” personnel and training videos harp on these issues while hiding the real problem: overwork for the sake of profit. Monopoly media have helped Amazon promote these “safety” programs and disguise what’s really going on, publishing articles like “Amazon has a new plan to cut worker injuries by 50%” even as increased rates of injury have been exposed through OSHA reporting.
Over the last four years, Amazon has had the highest injury rate in warehousing in the US, almost twice that of all others, according to data reported by Amazon to OSHA and analyzed by the Strategic Organizing Center . Over 40 percent of these injuries are musculoskeletal disorders, which largely result from repetitive motion and strain.
These injuries directly correspond to Amazon policies which push for greater productivity at the cost of worker well-being. The more work Amazon can squeeze out of employees in the same amount of time, the more it profits. The relation of Amazon productivity policies to injuries is demonstrated by the fact that in 2020, when Amazon temporarily ceased productivity tracking in response to COVID, injuries decreased by 28 percent. Similarly, data shows higher rates of injury during Prime week and at facilities with robots, where workers are driven to match the speed of the machines.
At PIT5, Amazon does not even follow its own rules about rotating workers to prevent injury. On the “sort slide” duty, workers sort boxes from the main conveyor belt onto side belts, a position especially prone to causing injury as it involves heavy boxes and is very repetitive. Amazon’s own policy requires workers to be rotated out of this position after 2 hours, yet workers report working not only full shifts, but back-to-back shifts on sort slide if working a double.
Safety is not the individual responsibility of workers, as Amazon tries to impress on us. Because they set the pace, Amazon gets to decide how safe the workplace will be, and it will never choose to keep us safe in any significant way, because that would directly impact how much money its shareholders and board of directors can wring out of our bodies.
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