Stop Amazon’s Injury Crisis: End Amazon’s Dangerous and Punitive Worker Surveillance

Amazon injures and discards warehouse workers and delivery drivers at double the industry average. There were a record 24,000 serious injuries at Amazon facilities last year. It is time for lawmakers and regulators to step-in and end the punitive system of constant surveillance that drives the dangerous pace of work at Amazon.

Amazon’s business model is a calculated exploitation of workers, the majority of whom are Black and brown. Amazon’s punishing system monitors workers’ speed or rate, tracks their movements each second with a metric called time off task, and imposes a constant threat of termination. Amazon claims to simply monitor workflow — but in reality, rate and time off task is used to control physical movements and discipline workers, dictate when or if they can use the bathroom, and has been used to retaliate against worker organizing. A recent investigation in Washington State concluded that this high-pressure system violates the law.

Discarding workers after they are injured or too exhausted, Amazon churned through over half a million workers in 2019. Amazon’s model breaks people’s bodies, taking their health and sometimes livelihoods. The cumulative costs of this exploitative business model are offloaded onto workers, their families, and the public.

Black workers disproportionately bear the brunt of Amazon’s model. At one of Amazon’s largest warehouses in New York, Black workers were fifty percent more likely to be fired than their white peers. And during the pandemic, Amazon fired several Black workers who spoke out about unsafe conditions. This mirrors findings that Black people are more likely to have dangerous jobs, less likely to have their concerns heard, and more likely to be retaliated against. Further, Amazon actively discourages the promotion of hourly workers in warehouses, the majority of whom are Black and brown.

Warehouse workers and delivery drivers cannot wait for Amazon to fix its broken system. To ensure Amazon’s model does not become the standard for our entire economy, regulators and lawmakers must intervene:

  • End rate and time off task tracking: State and federal electeds should enact laws that ban this surveillance-driven discipline and control to ensure that workers are protected from abusive conditions.
  • Update OSHA standards and enforcement to end rate and time off task: As evidence mounts that Amazon’s model creates an unsafe workplace, state and federal OSHA programs should enforce existing standards and create new rules that address practices like rate and time off task that monitor workers and increase the pace of work.
  • Investigate Amazon’s abuses: Agencies tasked with safeguarding workers should investigate Amazon for these widespread and long-standing abuses, including: injuries, retaliation, and discrimination.

For years, workers have spoken out and protested against these conditions. Most recently, in Bessemer, Alabama, Black warehouse workers led a unionization effort, citing the punishing conditions created by Amazon’s system of surveillance, control, and threat of termination.

Last year, civil society organizations stood with workers and called upon Congress to ban this type of punitive worker surveillance, citing the dangerous impacts on workers’ physical and mental health, potential to undermine workers’ right to organize, and long-term deskilling and wage decline of these jobs.

Finally forced to admit to ongoing injury problems, Amazon is nevertheless doubling down on its extractive model. In his final letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos stated that Amazon would begin to use artificial intelligence to direct workers from one task to the next. But using technology to maintain absolute control over workers’ tasks and workflow, it will only escalate Amazon’s injury crisis. Decades of research show that when workers do not have autonomy and control at work, they are more likely to be injured and experience mental strain and depression. Later, Amazon announced wellness programs and funding for injury research, but it refuses to do the one thing that would stop widespread injuries: eliminate rate and time off task.

Amazon will soon be the largest private employer in the United States, and if lawmakers and regulators fail to take action, its dangerous and extractive model will become the standard in warehousing, logistics, and retail. As other retailers implement similarly exploitative strategies, this dangerous trend will further degrade working conditions for tens of millions of people across the country. The result will be a punishing, untenable reality for all working people, and Black and brown people will pay the highest cost.

We call on lawmakers and regulators do everything in their power to end rate and time off task, ensuring Amazon cannot use this punitive system of surveillance to cycle through entire workforces in communities throughout the country.

In Solidarity,
Athena Coalition
Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE)
Awood Center
AI Now
Civil Liberties Defense Center
Color of Change
Constitutional Alliance
Demos
Fight for the Future
Free Press
Government Accountability Project
Green America
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Jobs With Justice
LAANE
Make the Road New York
Make the Road NJ
MediaJustice
Movement Alliance Project
MPower Change
National Employment Law Project
New York Communities For Change
OLÉ
Open Markets Institute
Partnership for Working Families
Presente.org
Public Citizen
Restore the Fourth Minnesota
Secure Justice
Stand Up Nashville
Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP)
SumOfUs
Transit Riders Union
United for Respect
Warehouse Worker Resource Center
Warehouse Workers for Justice

Athena is a coalition working together to break the dangerous stranglehold of corporate power over our democracy, economy, and planet. @athenaforall