Utah officials would rightly shut down any company whose labor conditions are described by its own workers as “brutal,” “unsafe” and “demoralizing.” Yet despite the horror stories of the grueling conditions inside Amazon warehouses, local officials remain willing, if not downright excited, to roll out the red carpet each and every time the company announces an expansion in Utah.
Instead of complicity, lawmakers should be asking the hard questions, such as how long will these jobs last, as the facilities are designed to be full of robots? And Attorney General Sean Reyes should strongly consider installing an oversight team to monitor conditions the state’s warehouses — especially with a new fulfillment center now coming to West Jordan.
Stories of worker deaths and Amazon’s callous response to worker injuries, disability accommodation needs and quality of life are all too common. In fact, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health has named Amazon at the top of their “Dirty Dozen” list for two years in a row, citing worker deaths caused by unsafe working conditions, inadequate emergency response plans, unsafe and unrealistic productivity requirements and the company’s heavy reliance on temporary employees.
The horrific conditions inside Amazon warehouses have been an open secret for years. A 2011 investigative report out of Pennsylvania was one of the first to expose the company’s alarming warehouse practices. Ever since, reports of Amazon warehouse workers experiencing extreme psychological distress, including suicide attempts, due to poor working conditions and the punishing pace demanded of them, are disturbingly frequent.
In fact, during Prime Day, Amazon’s recent two-day shopping blowout, warehouse workers in Minnesota courageously took to the streets to protest and demand better treatment. Local officials should heed their call. It’s time for local officials to start conducting inspections of Amazon warehouses; stationing health and safety inspectors at all warehouses owned and/or significantly controlled by Amazon; and conducting remote due diligence such as monitoring emergency medical calls from Amazon facilities.
Reyes should oversee these efforts and, when necessary, issue meaningful sanctions against the company for violations of safety and health regulations.
Lawmakers and regulators at the federal level also have an important role to play, and it’s welcome news that Democratic lawmakers recently sent a letter to the Department of Labor urging the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to launch an investigation into potential abuses inside Amazon facilities. But state attorneys general, with their unique ability to marshal resources locally, must lead the charge.
The bottom line is out of sight, out of mind is not an acceptable approach to accountability. The fact remains that Amazon has been either unwilling or unable to address the working conditions inside of its warehouses, and thus public officials have a responsibility to monitor and intervene.
Amazon is one of the largest employers in the country and has a significant presence in the Beehive State. It can well afford to be a responsible, and even a good and caring employer to its warehouse workers.
Robert B. Engel, Denver, is the chief spokesperson for the Free & Fair Markets Initiative.