WASHINGTON, D.C. – This morning, speakers who are part of the Athena coalition testified before the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections in a hearing to examine the unsafe and untenable conditions warehouse workers face:
Sheheryar Kaoosji, Executive Director, Warehouse Worker Resource Center
Eric Frumin, Director of Health and Safety, Strategic Organizing Center
Janeth Caicedo, Make The Road NJ Member and Sister of Edilberto Caicedo, a warehouse worker who died on the job
“A core issue of warehousing is pace of work. Workers are pushed to move as quickly as possible in these workplaces, in order to keep up with the rapid pace of delivery necessary to keep the supply chain thin and running smoothly. Amazon has accelerated these forces, moving workers rapidly through their facilities in order to keep up with the rapid pace of their operations. Amazon’s intention is not to store products, but rather to keep them moving and flowing through their systems, in order to have as thin and quick a supply chain as possible. This is the state of the art–what the rest of the industry aims to match,” stated Sheheryar Kaoosji, executive director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center.
He continued, “When you order a product to arrive in 24 or 48 hours, there is no magic robot or process that makes that happen. The product moves fast because people run. People move quickly and get injured,”
This hearing was organized in response to the ongoing demands of Amazon workers, and after the deaths of three Amazon workers in New Jersey. In September 2022, the Athena coalition led over 30 civil society and worker organizations to ask Congress to conduct a hearing to investigate Amazon’s warehouse safety crisis.
“Amazon distinguishes itself by using high tech to injure its workers more than other employers do in two ways: First, they push workers harder than other employers using algorithms. Second, they use robots to make their jobs even more dangerous. Injury rates in their robotic facilities are higher than in others.” stated Eric Frumin, Director of Health and Safety at the Strategic Organizing Center.
He continued, “Andy Jassy could issue a directive this afternoon to stop firing workers whose bodies require a break from the pressure. Nothing is preventing him from doing so.”
We are glad the Subcommittee and the public had an opportunity to hear about the ongoing safety crisis at Amazon. Specifically, we heard from speakers’ testimony that:
The crisis is a direct result of Amazon’s punitive management practices that use constant surveillance and threat of termination to push workers to the breaking point; the company’s use of retaliation and union busting that prevents workers from advocating for safer conditions; and the high-turnover model that prioritizes profit over safety, even during natural disasters and extreme weather.
These unsafe conditions are preventable. Because major employers like Amazon are unwilling to put people before profits, members of Congress have the responsibility to pass laws, like legislators in California did, to prevent ongoing injuries and deaths.
Amazon’s model is a threat to workers everywhere. As the second largest private employer in the country, Amazon and its labor practices have an outsized impact on our economy, and sets precedent in the retail, warehousing, and logistics sectors.
“On August 19, 2019, I received a call that my brother Edilberto was at the hospital with a very, very dangerous injury in his brain. He died four days later. It was a drastic change in my life, in my family’s life, and nothing, nothing has been the same again. My mom, who is 93 years old, still feels that he will come one day to tell her what happened,” stated Janeth Caicedo, Make the Road NJ member and sister of Edilberto Caicedo, a warehouse worker who died on the job.
She continued, “I think the accident was the company’s fault. The company didn’t follow OSHA regulations. There was no interest in keeping a safe workplace at all. The company was accepting contract after contract and piling people inside the warehouse without maintaining any type of safety protocol. The equipment was also unsafe. The company didn’t keep up the machines and didn’t provide adequate training. These conditions would end up killing my brother.”