Legislative fight for warehouse worker protections comes to Jeff Bezos’ Flatiron District penthouse

Photo by Max Parrott

Union members and worker advocates took their fight on behalf of Amazon and other warehouse workers to Jeff Bezos’ doorstep on Thursday morning in front of the building of his Flatiron District penthouse.

The group organized by the New Yorkers for a Fair Economy coalition rallied behind state legislation that would require large warehouse employers to identify and minimize the risks of musculoskeletal injuries in workers performing manual labor.

“Amazon is racking up OSHA violations and workers are getting hurt. They’re designing facilities to get products out fast not to protect workers. That’s why we’re here today: to show that these injuries are serious, but they’re also preventable,” said Lucas Shapiro, the interim executive director of ALIGN, the coalition’s leading group.

Though not limited to Amazon workers, the legislation takes aim at the e-commerce giant’s New York operations. The coalition coordinated the rally with the release of a new study from the National Employment Law Project that found Amazon workers in the state are injured at a rate equivalent to one injury for every 12 full-time equivalent employees — above that of the average non-Amazon warehouses. 

Photo by Max Parrott

The report also found that 95 percent of New York Amazon worker injuries in 2022 were cases severe enough that workers could not continue performing their normal job duties. This data builds on an ALIGN report from last year that found the serious injury rate at Amazon facilities is 40 percent higher than at non-Amazon facilities statewide.

Amazon did not respond to comment by the time of publication.

The two Albany labor chairs State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Latoya Jpoyner sponsored the new legislation, named the Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act (WWIRA). It builds on a law the legislature passed last year that requires warehouse employers like Amazon to provide transparency around productivity quotas, which takes effect on June 19, 2023. 

“I am proud to be continuing that fight with the Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act so we can finally rein in the business models that view workers as overhead, instead of full human beings,” said Ramos in a statement.

Claudia Ashterman, an Amazon Labor Union organizer at the recently unionized JFK 8 facility in Staten Island said that she had recently injured her hand after tools jammed together and flew off the conveyor belt. 

Photo by Max Parrott

“It was an accident that was waiting to happen,” said Ashterman. “We are constantly moving like a robot. Some of my colleagues get hurt daily, but they are afraid and they don’t want to report it.”

The new legislation would require large warehouses to hire a certified expert assess workplace hazards, identify what needs to be fixed, what’s going to make workers prone to injury and give them a timeline to make those changes. Employers would also be required to have better employee safety training and provide onsite medical care to attend to the most common injuries. The state Department of Labor would be empowered to enforce the regulations.

“The bill doesn’t create a one size fits all standard as each warehouse and even each job type within a warehouse needs different ergonomic controls. That’s why our bill relies on an expert ergonomist to review each job type within a warehouse to determine how work is done and make recommendations for improving that specific job,” said Josh Kellerman, director of public policy at the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Kellerman added that the warehouse size the bill would target involves single facilities of 500 workers or employers with 1,00 workers statewide.

Though the bill was written in coordination with unions like RWDSU and ALU, the advocates pointed out that they needed it passed on the state level to protect all workers. 

“All workers deserve workplaces that are designed with their safety in mind,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum.