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Compared to the kind of abuses that Walmart contractor warehouses have been accused of, fined for, and sued over, Amazon has a relatively clean record. But that this is a business where a company can have a relatively clean record despite having been reported to have warehouses so hot that it needed to keep paramedics stationed outside to deal with heat stress is somewhat telling. In fact, the Seattle Times' Hal Bernton and Susan Kelleher report that in 10 years, Amazon has been fined only $6,500 for safety violations all around the country. That's an amazingly clean record for such a big company—except that Bernton and Kelleher also detail how it's maintained in part by pressuring workers and doctors not to report workplace injuries.
Three former workers at Amazon's warehouse in Campbellsville told The Seattle Times there was pressure to manage injuries so they would not have to be reported to OSHA, such as attributing workplace injuries to pre-existing conditions or treating wounds in a way that did not trigger federal reports. [...]

A former warehouse safety official said in-house medical staff were asked to treat wounds, when possible, with bandages rather than refer workers to a doctor for stitches that could trigger federal reports. And warehouse officials tried to advise doctors on how to treat injured workers.

Avoiding stitches and other treatments that might trigger an injury report "when possible"? Doesn't that just make you wonder what Amazon managers consider "possible." But it's actually very common for companies to keep their injury statistics down by pressuring workers not to report injuries, including offering bonuses—as Amazon does—for clean injury reports. That's why, for instance, unionized coal mines have more injuries reported but fewer traumatic injuries and deaths—having a union means minor injuries are more likely to be reported despite an overall safer work environment. And Amazon, of course, is fiercely anti-union.

The Seattle Times interviewed former managers and safety officials who described being intimidated away from reporting problems or pushing for change, including one who was told to either resign or be fired for a rule violation he supposedly committed, coincidentally (it's always coincidental), just a week after expressing his concerns about overheating and other working conditions.

If you had to choose between working in an Amazon warehouse and a Walmart one, Amazon seems like the better bet—pay and benefits are better, at a minimum. But, as Mother Jones' Mac McClelland detailed in her account of working in such a warehouse, the price of free shipping these days is in workers forced to keep up a brutal pace, walking or running more than 10 miles a day across concrete floors, squatting and reaching and carrying, and fired when they can't keep up, even if the reason they can't keep up is that their bodies have been broken by the work.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 12:49 PM PDT.

Also republished by Retail And Workplace Pragmatists - General, Retail and Workplace Pragmatists - Members and Editors, and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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