Click “buy” and a box arrives at your doorstep within a couple days. New Yorkers have gotten used to free and fast shipping, but few think about the workers who make it possible. Warehousing is the fastest growing industry in our state and the drive for faster deliveries is creating a worker safety crisis.
In 2019, I was part of a team of safety activists and labor organizers conducting outreach to workers at the recently opened JFK8 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Staten Island. Amazon’s reputation preceded it, with reports of workers urinating into water bottles, feeling pressured to skip breaks, and receiving insufficient leave time and compensation following injury.
One worker’s story sticks with me. This worker, let’s call her Abigail, was hired as a “picker” — someone who picks the items for an order from their shelves — shortly before the 2018 Christmas rush. Due to the increase in orders around the holidays, warehouse employees were required to work longer shifts: 10- and 12-hour days, spent on their feet, traversing an 855,000 square foot warehouse the size of 15 football fields to meet their quotas. Abigail told me that some of the items were easy to get from their shelves, but some were so tightly wedged into bins that she had to work her fingers into the containers to pry them out. Abigail did this over and over during the course of her extended shift, and quickly, since Amazon’s infamous worker monitoring system was always tracking her “time off task.”
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