Amazon has long come under fire for the exacting targets that it places on its workers. Now, a new survey adds further detail to the impact those targets appear to be having on employees’ physical and mental health. It comes as the U.S. Department of Labor fined Amazon $60,000, on Wednesday, for what it said was a failure to keep workers safe at three U.S. warehouses.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors found workers in Amazon warehouses in Deltona, Florida; Waukegan, Illinois; and New Windsor, New York, to be “at high risk for lower back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders related to the high frequency with which workers are required to lift packages and other items; the heavy weight of the items; awkward postures, such as twisting, bending and long reaches while lifting; and long hours required to complete assigned tasks.”
“Each of these inspections found work processes that were designed for speed but not safety, and they resulted in serious worker injuries,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker, in a statement. “While Amazon has developed impressive systems to make sure its customers’ orders are shipped efficiently and quickly, the company has failed to show the same level of commitment to protecting the safety and well-being of its workers.”
In a statement, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said Amazon “strongly” disagrees with the Department of Labor’s assessment, and intends to appeal it. “The government’s allegations don’t reflect the reality of safety at our sites. Over the last several months we’ve demonstrated the extent to which we work every day to mitigate risk and protect our people, and our publicly available data show we’ve reduced injury rates nearly 15% between 2019 and 2021. What’s more, the vast majority of our employees tell us they feel our workplace is safe.”
The new survey, exclusively shared with TIME, was carried out by the worker-focused communications agency Jarrow Insights on behalf of the UNI Global Union, a workers’ rights group. The survey includes more than 2,000 self-professed Amazon workers across eight countries.
More than half of the people surveyed (51%) said Amazon’s monitoring of their productivity at work had a negative impact on their physical health. A slightly larger percentage of those surveyed, 57%, reported that the company’s monitoring had a negative impact on their mental health. “I was harassed for not reaching my targets, everyday negative feedback,” said a respondent who said they were a U.K.-based warehouse worker with wrist problems. “I had to explain why I can’t reach the targets even with doctors’ recommendations to not overstrain my hands. Now I’m off work again.”
“I got written up the day I got back from losing my son,” a self-identified U.S. warehouse worker wrote.
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In a statement, Amazon spokesperson Steve Kelly contested the survey’s methodology. “This online poll was financed and managed by union groups perpetuating false information to satisfy their own narratives,” he said. “The outcome is loaded, statistically insignificant, and contradicts what our own employees tell us directly. In our most recent internal survey—conducted randomly and anonymously—nearly 9 out of 10 of our colleagues say they feel safe at work and that their managers are doing all they can to ensure they’re safe.”
It is true that the Jarrow Insights survey was not random—it was distributed via online ads targeted at people who identified themselves as working for Amazon on social media or who were geographically located within Amazon facilities (accounting for 75% of responses), as well as via outreach to worker organizations (7.6%), according to a Jarrow Insights spokesperson (the rest came from employees sharing the survey with colleagues). Respondents were asked to self-identify whether they were a warehouse worker, delivery driver, or office worker. However, as the spokesperson for Jarrow Insights tells TIME, the group intentionally built a larger-than-statistically-necessary sample size to mitigate any potential problems due to the targeting approach of the survey design. In addition, the spokesperson says, they’re not claiming that the results represent all of Amazon workers, but rather just the respondents of the survey who identified themselves as Amazon workers.
With more than 1.6 million employees globally, Amazon is the world’s fifth-largest employer. It’s also the fifth-most valuable public company in the world, with a market capitalization of nearly $1 trillion. In a statement, the UNI Global Union criticized Amazon’s workplace practices. “Studying the responses in their entirety, a clear picture emerges across countries and roles,” a UNI Global Union spokesperson said in a statement accompanying the survey. “The majority of workers surveyed expressed their belief that Amazon’s monitoring of their work performance is excessive and opaque, that its expectations are unrealistic, and that striving to meet these unrealistic expectations has negative effects on their physical health and, even more acutely, their mental health.”
It is not the first assessment to find Amazon’s workplace safety lacking. Last March, the workplace safety regulator in Amazon’s home state of Washington accused the retail giant of “knowingly putting workers at risk of injury” to their backs, shoulders, wrists, and knees. “Many Amazon jobs involve repetitive motions, lifting, carrying, twisting, and other physical work,” the regulator’s report stated. “Workers are required to perform these tasks at such a fast pace that it increases the risk of injury.” Amazon disputes the findings and is now suing that regulator, accusing it of failing to prove any violation of safety or health regulations.
The report compiled by UNI Global Union builds a picture of the different ways Amazon and its outsourcing partners surveil their workers as a means of productivity tracking.
In Amazon warehouses, the report says, workers are monitored via hand scanners and ID card swipes. Break times, the report says, are measured from the time a hand scanner scans its last item before a break and the first item after, no matter where the employee is in the warehouse.
Workers with irritable bowel syndrome, which can require longer periods in the restroom, reported “frictions” with Amazon’s “time off task” policies, according to the report. “Today I received a write-up for ‘unaccounted for idle time’ due to my IBS,” one self-identified U.S. warehouse worker reported. “I’m constantly harassed over missing work or restroom breaks due to my illness.”
Delivery drivers—often employed by third party contractors—report being tracked via GPS devices and cameras in their vehicles. The report also finds that nearly two-thirds of respondents who identified as delivery drivers reported a “negative” impact on their physical health as a result of Amazon’s monitoring.
One respondent said that the targets also posed a risk to the general public. “I feel like I’m drowning all day, causing me to drive in unsafe ways to meet the unreasonable expectation[s],” said a self-described U.S.-based Amazon delivery driver in response to the survey.
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