Amazon disputes claims of poor working conditions at Staten Island facility

The Amazon Fulfillment Center on Staten Island, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

Amazon might have plans for other parts of New York, but the commerce giant is garnering more controversy over operations at its Staten Island facility.

Forty-two elected officials have called upon Amazon to address allegedly poor conditions at their Staten Island distribution center, where a recent study found a high number of on-the-job injuries. Moreover, 600 employees there have signed onto a petition attesting to the claim that their work environment felt hazardous.

Amazon’s OSHA 300A logs showed an incident rate of 15.2 per 100 employees.

So far, 16 City Council members, 13 State Assembly members, 10 state Senators, a congressman as well as city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Speaker Corey Johnson have signed onto a letter that also called for the company to increase break time and provide free MetroCards for employees.

“We are writing to you today because we continue to receive incredibly disturbing reports of dangerous working conditions in the Amazon Warehouse on Staten Island that we believe must be addressed,” the letter stated. “We also understand that hundreds of your workers are petitioning you for some basic changes to begin to ameliorate the incredibly difficult jobs that they perform for the Amazon corporation.”

The letter contained names that would ring for anyone who taking note of the Feb. 14 fallout between Amazon and the New York over their plans to build their HQ2 in Long Island City’s Anable Basin.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris and city Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who stood against the HQ2 plan over proposed tax breaks to the retail giant, signed onto the letter about the Staten Island facility. They took heat from Amazon proponents after the deal died, claiming it cost the city 25,000 jobs.

Amazon disputed claims in the letter that their work environment was unsafe and a company spokeswoman encouraged the elected officials to tour the facility for themselves.

“We provide a safe, quality work environment in which associates are the heart and soul of our operations—to these elected officials we say, please come tour our building, see it for yourself and experience our culture of safety firsthand versus listening to the self-interested critics who claim falsely that it’s unsafe,” according to an Amazon statement. “You’d join more than 280,000 people who this year alone already took tours to see our innovative workplace and focus on safety.”

The company also explained that the number of injuries that occur at their facilities may seem elevated from other companies claiming they over-record incidents. Other companies may be under-recording to keeping statistics low, an Amazon spokeswoman said.

Amazon also claimed it was incorrect to call their workspaces unsafe based on the numbers of injuries alone as it was presented in the New Road for New York and Communities for Change report.

An incident rate of 15.2 per 100 employees — which Make the Road NY claimed was higher than coal miners or waste collection workers — was not an adequate comparison, Amazon rebutted, due to the sheer size of their workforce.

The company concluded by saying that if conditions were really as unsafe as claimed, people would not be willing to work for them “in this period of record low unemployment.”

Mark Hallum