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Fulfillment centers so hazardous, Washington state boosts Amazon’s workers’ comp rates 15 percent

Washington state’s labor agency will raise the Workers’ Compensation premium rates paid by Amazon for its fulfillment centers by 15 percent starting in 2021. This is due to the much higher rate of injuries to workers in the Amazon fulfillment centers than workers at 260 other job classifications including other warehouses.  

Previously, the state Department of Labor & Industries had placed Amazon’s Fulfillment Centers in the same category of workplace as any other warehouse when calculating premium rates. “Workers’ comp claims arising from Amazon fulfillment centers increased nearly threefold between 2014 and 2018, L&I injury claims data shows. Meanwhile, the number of claims from non-Amazon warehouses has trended steadily downward for years.” (Seattle Times)

To implement the new rates L&I is creating a new category for “transportation and warehousing” called “fulfillment center.” At this time Amazon is the only employer with workplaces that fall into this category.  

Workers at Amazon fulfillment centers rush to keep up with robotic systems to meet shipment deadlines of one or two days. Workers are closely monitored and can be fired for falling behind. The most common injuries are being struck by an object or falling, often due to over-exertion. The injury rate at fulfillment centers is almost twice the national industry average for warehouses and consistently goes up in the weeks that include Prime Day and Cyber Monday.  

Raising the rates on Amazon for its fulfillment centers will be accompanied by a lowering of rates for the rest of the warehousing industry. This lowering of the rates for the rest of warehousing industry will be accompanied by a small raise for the employees at traditional warehouses, who pay part of the workers’ comp premiums via an automatic paycheck deduction.  

“The best way for Amazon to lower its premiums is to invest more in worker safety,” said Joe Kendo, government affairs director at the Washington State AFL-CIO labor council. In part, that could mean allowing workers to unionize, he said: Workers at a new Amazon facility in Alabama signaled their intent to form a union last week, citing “outrageous work quotas that have left many with illnesses and lifetime injuries.” (Seattle Times)

The “outrageous work quotas” cited are part of the Amazon Prime promise of “same day shipping.” In 2020 Amazon’s profit doubled over the same period in 2019 from $2.6 billion $5.2 billion, due to the increase in online purchases as a result of pandemic lockdown measures. 

Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos are making record  profits and income during a pandemic in which people are sick and dying, an economic crisis in which millions of people are hungry, unemployed and and losing their homes. It is fair to say that Amazon is profiting off the misfortunes of others.  

Even before the pandemic Amazon held a lion’s share of the retail market and dominated the delivery of retail goods in the personal consumer market. Since the pandemic it has grown by leaps and bounds. Between March 2020 and October 30, 2020 Amazon hired 350,000 new employees bringing the number of Amazon employees to more than 1 million. 

In that same period Jeff Bezos’s personal wealth grew by $48 billion dollars. 

Imagine that! Jeff Bezos’s net worth is currently valued at $182.2 billion.  One billion dollars is 12 pallet loads of $100 bills. Jeff Bezos could spend $1 million dollars a day, every day for a year and still be sitting on $181.8 billion and change. The way the capitalist legal system is rigged, Jeff Bezos’ right to acquire even more wealth than he already has, with his company, is more important than the health and welfare of those who work in the fulfilment centers.  

Bezos getting even richer off the needs of the rest of the society during a pandemic is criminal but sadly not illegal. If we want to end this system we need to organize and unite our struggles. At this critical juncture in history so many crises of capitalism have come to a head including catastrophic climate change, systemic racism, a pandemic that capitalism in the U.S. has failed to  address, a collapsing health system, ever-increasing poverty for the have-nots and a concentration of wealth in the hands of the ever fewer rich. Let us unite and fight for a world that makes peoples’ needs more important than the wealth and comfort of the few at the top. 

The writer is an Amazon employee.

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