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One Dead in EWR9: OSHA Initiates Probe Into Amazon Warehouse Fatality

One Dead in EWR9: OSHA Initiates Probe Into Amazon Warehouse Fatality

President of the Amazon Labor Union, Chris Smalls, has nominated Q3, 2022 as the #HotLaborSummer. And recent reports of an Amazon employee’s on-the-clock-death continue to dial up the thermostat as red flags again rise around Amazon’s questionable labor practices. 

On July 13th—what’s known on the consumer liturgical calendar as Prime Day—an employee at Amazon’s EWR9 fulfillment center in Carteret, New Jersey, collapsed and died. Details about the death remain shrouded as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced an investigation into the death and its potential relation to managerial malfeasance or a dangerous working environment. 

OSHA’s investigation, initiated on July 14th, will take up to six months to inspect the circumstances and conditions of the employee’s death. 

Sam Stephenson, an Amazon spokesman, offered little detail in a public statement. He expressed condolences for the worker’s passing, adding, “We’ve contacted his family to offer support and will provide counseling resources to employees needing additional care.” Stephenson mentioned that the fatality was unrelated to warehouse conditions and, instead, resulted from a medical condition. So far, Amazon released only the first name of the deceased employee, Rafael, announcing that his funeral would take place in the Dominican Republic. Rafael’s full identity remains unknown. 

However, while silence reigns at corporate, Amazon Labor Union leadership is in pursuit to learn more about Rafael’s conditions on Prime Day. Chris Smalls tweeted on July 21st, “Learned some disturbing details about the worker who passed away I was told not only did they take nearly an hour to call 911 he was unconscious on the floor for over 20 mins. He warned management of chest pains they kept him working in the path as a water spider in heated conditions.” (“Waterspider” is a warehouse term for a role tasked with moving goods from one area to another.)

Additionally, Smalls announced ALU plans to organize at EWR9 and his personal intent to file a complaint with the local OSHA board in NJ. 

The investigation is part of a more comprehensive OSHA initiative to draw a clearer image of Amazon’s labor violations, which have led to unionization outbreaks throughout the country. Recently, the Amazon Labor Union won its first-ever election at the JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York. Since then, two other elections have occurred: One at LDJ5, another Staten Island location that resulted in a losing effort; the other in Alabama, where electoral results are being contested. 

Prime Day’s Brutal Expectations

Prime Day has been a global consumer magnate since its launch in 2015. However, Amazon workers continue to decry the immense stress and conditions placed on those responsible for managing the annual avalanche of online orders. Many note that its dead-of-summertime date leads to unsafe working climates. And along with unrelenting demand and stern expectations to meet quotas, Prime Day results in reckless performance expectations that leave employees in physically threatening situations. 

On Prime Day, Amazon ships upwards of 250 million items. And in recent years, work-related stress and injury have mushroomed. In 2021, injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers jumped 20%, and annual turnover rates of hourly-wage employees reached 125%-150%. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced a slew of health hazards, many of which Amazon management neglected to address. Such mismanagement led Chris Smalls and a group of workers to initiate a mass walkout and eventually form the ALU. 

While crucial details regarding Rafael’s death remain disclosed, workers and union leaders express grim familiarity with Amazon’s willingness to put employee health beneath consumer expectations. Investigative reports and employee statements often liken the conditions of Amazon centers to the suffocating weave rooms and cramped work-mills of America’s early 20th-century industrial scene. Amazon’s well-documented and habitually rotten labor conditions promote wide skepticism around its narrow corporatized statements, indicating there would be little surprise if OSHA’s investigation determines the cause of 2022’s Prime Day fatality to be very deep pockets. 

Thumbnail Credits: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Sources:

  1. Amazon workers demand more details about the warehouse employee’s death
  2. Federal probe opened after Amazon worker dies
  3. Excessive injuries and low pay at Amazon warehouses cause high turnover, report claims
  4. Prime Day, 2021
  5. Primed for Pain: Amazon’s Epidemic of Workplace Injuries
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