Following yesterday’s Prime Day strike at a fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota, over a dozen progressive lawmakers—including Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ro Khanna—co-signed a letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to request a “comprehensive investigation into the workplace conditions” in Amazon and its subsidiary businesses’ warehouses.
Reporting has uncovered a number of issues within Amazon’s vast logistics network. Some, like the extraordinary control the company exerts over workers’ time and productivity demands, appear to be systemic, and have been the source of allegations such as employees urinating in bottles in order to hit quotas, fainting on the job, or developing repetitive strain injuries. Others have been freak accidents—such as the Amazon worker who was crushed by a forklift in Indiana, the one killed by a truck in Pennsylvania, or the two instances of warehouse workers being exposed to bear spray—that, in their totality, paint an unflattering picture of Bezos’s empire.
“In the year 2019, working conditions in the United States of America should be the best and the safest in the world,” the lawmakers’ joint letter to OSHA reads. “Reflected in previous fines levied by your agency, this is not the case with Amazon.” As mentioned, the letter arrives on the heels of a work stoppage at a fulfillment center outside Minneapolis, which the lawmakers describe as a protest of “their employer’s unfair, unsafe practices.”
In a email to Gizmodo, an Amazon spokesperson characterized the strike as an action by “roughly 15 associates.” “It was obvious to the 1500-full-time workforce that an outside organization used Prime Day to raise its own visibility, conjured misinformation and a few associate voices to work in their favor, and relied on political rhetoric to fuel media attention,” the spokesperson added.
MSP1, as this particular warehouse is called, has been a hotbed of labor unrest within Amazon’s network. While still a representative-elect, freshman lawmaker Ilhan Omar spoke to a crowd of activists and workers who marched on MSP1 in December, the first action of the sort on U.S. soil. (Strikes and other actions are much more commonplace at Amazon’s European facilities—as was the case at facilities in Germany, Spain, Poland, and England yesterday.) In October, Senator Sanders and fellow presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren requested additional information about Amazon’s anti-union practices.
“If Rep. Omar and Sen Sanders really want to help the American worker, they should focus on passing legislation that raises the federal minimum wage—$7.25 is too low,” an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo in response to today’s news. “As for the letter, we welcome OSHA to visit our facilities, just as we offer public tours to any member of the public. They will see that we offer a safe workplace with industry leading pay starting at $15/hr, benefits, and education opportunities.” Senator Sanders, it should be noted, has repeatedly lobbied to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. OSHA’s website also returns over 200 results for investigations into Amazon’s facilities, 51 of which found violations.
“Rep. Omar visited our facility in Minnesota earlier this year and only had good things to say, so we are surprised by this letter,” the spokesperson added. “As for Senator Sanders, he has declined our numerous invitations to visit a facility of his choice.” Gizmodo was unable to identify any quotes from Omar praising MSP1, Amazon has not responded to a followup email asking for examples, and a representative from Omar’s office described the statement as inaccurate.