Warehouse workers are the backbone of the modern e-commerce economy, yet regulations protecting workers and communities affected by this new industry have lagged far behind its rapid growth. When New York’s warehouse and distribution center workers leave for work every day, they face a job that sees them three times more likely than the average private industry worker to suffer an injury or illness. That’s why New York needs to pass the Warehouse Worker Protection Act (WWPA – A10020/S8922), which helps protect workers from inhumane quotas at companies such as Amazon.
A dangerous job
New York’s warehouse industry has alarmingly high injury rates, and nowhere is this more apparent than when reviewing the data at Amazon, which has opened over 70 new facilities in New York State since 2018. Amazon workers are injured at a rate of six per 100, which is five times the average in New York. While all warehouse work is dangerous, Amazon warehouse workers are 54% more likely than others in the industry to get sick or hurt on the job.
Research shows that many of these injuries and illnesses are preventable and are the result of management philosophies at these facilities that prioritize speed over workers’ safety. Unsafe work speeds, unreasonable work quotas, dangerous work, and insufficient breaks all contribute to the skyrocketing rate of injuries in the industry. Amazon workers have told RWDSU representatives that their productivity is monitored so closely that they are afraid to take bathroom breaks.
While Amazon is the highest-profile offender, workers throughout the industry suffer from higher-than-average injury rates, and many of the same dangerous policies and lack of protection.
Addressing the warehouse industry injury epidemic
The WWPA, modeled after similar legislation signed into law in California last year and targeting large facilities and employers, would create important guardrails to protect warehouse industry workers from the brutal line speeds and quotas that are driving injuries and sickness at New York’s warehouses. These inhumane and abusive quotas, and the fear of being disciplined for not making them (even though workers aren’t told and don’t know exactly what they are), pressures workers into denying their basic needs and over-exerting themselves to the point of injury or illness.
The WWPA creates transparency for the often arbitrary and ever-changing quotas that many workers at large warehouses are subjected to. The law would inform workers on what their quotas are, and prevent workers from being disciplined if they fail to meet these quota requirements because they need to exercise basic human rights such as going to the bathroom when they need to.
New York’s warehouse workers are getting injured because there is no reason for unscrupulous employers to respect their basic humanity. The WWPA would change that, and these workers deserve passage of this important legislation that forces large employers like Amazon to reform the way it treats employees.
Stuart Appelbaum is president, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; Twitter: @sappelbaum; www.rwdsu.org