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Amazon's grisly body count
The tech giant's profits aren't the only metric going up and to the right
Hello from 20 Minutes into the Future. Last week we looked at Amazon’s role in America’s concentration camps. This week we’ll be looking at Amazon’s terrible track record of worker safety. This dispatch is not for the squeamish as it describes gruesome deaths. Consider that your first and only trigger warning.
Jeff Lockhart, 29, was a contract worker at an Amazon warehouse in Chester, Va. Lockhart suffered a cardiac arrest after an overnight shift. He died on January 19th, 2013.
Roland Smith, 57, was a contract worker at an Amazon warehouse in Avenel, New Jersey. Smith was dragged and crushed by a conveyor belt. He was killed on December 4th, 2013.
Jody Rhoads, 52, was a worker at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Rhoads was crushed and pinned by a pallet loader. He was killed on June 1st, 2014.
Name unknown, crushed to death by a forklift at an Amazon warehouse in Fernley, Nevada on November 4th, 2014.
Thomas Becker, 57, was a worker at an Amazon warehouse in Joliet, Illinois. Becker suffered a cardiac arrest at work. He died on Jan. 23, 2017.
Devan Michael Shoemaker, 28, was a worker at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (where Rhoads was also killed). Shoemaker was run over by a truck. He was killed on Sept. 19, 2017.
Phillip Terry, 59, was a worker at an Amazon warehouse in Plainfield, Indiana. Terry’s head was crushed by a forklift. He was killed on September 23, 2017
Karla Kay Arnold, 50, was a worker at an an Amazon warehouse in Monee, Illinois. Arnold sustained multiple injuries after she was hit by an SUV in the parking lot. She died on October 23, 2017.
Brien James Daunt, 42, was a construction worker building an Amazon warehouse in Oildale, California. Daunt fell from a dangerous height. He died on January 12, 2019.
Billy Foister, 48, was a worker at an Amazon warehouse in in Etna, Ohio. Foister suffered a cardiac arrest at work. He died on September 2, 2019.
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The Needless and Tragic Death of Billy Foister
Billy Foister’s case is a sad exemplar of the culture driving all this death.
A week before his death, Billy went to the warehouse’s clinic and reported headaches and chest pains. Eager to get Billy back on the floor, the clinician did four things. They took his blood pressure, told him he was dehydrated, gave him two beverages to drink, and sent him back to work.
A few days before his death, Billy was reprimanded by a manager two minutes after placing an item into the wrong box. Two minutes later. Two fucking minutes.
When Billy had his heart attack he was writhing on the ground for twenty minutes before anyone came to his aid. Foister was taken to a hospital where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. Amazon to this day insists Billy did not die on their premises.
A coworker said, “After the incident, everyone was forced to go back to work. No time to decompress. Basically watch a man pass away and then get told to go back to work, everyone, and act like it’s fine.”
“There was no reason for my brother to have died. He went to AmCare complaining about chest pains. He should have been sent to the hospital, not just sent back to work just to put things like toothpaste in a bin so somebody can get it in an hour,” Edward Foister said. “It seems Amazon values money way more than life. If they did their job right, I wouldn’t have had to bury my little brother.”
He's not wrong.
Working Conditions at Amazon
Investigations into working conditions reveal the high cost workers pay for our convenience. Bezos’ vast wealth depends on brutal, relentless, inhumane treatment of labourers. Aside from the heightened risk of death, workers also suffer physical & emotional trauma.
Before the Trinity Bay crash, Atlas Air pilots told Business Insider “they thought an accident was inevitable due to rapid growth, low pay and inexperienced pilots taking to the skies.” Since the accident pilots have been protesting dismal working conditions and terrible contracts.
The Daily Beast reported on the mental duress warehouse workers endure. From 2013 to 2018 there were 189 calls to 911. The calls ranged from suicidal thoughts to suicide attempts and nervous breakdowns. Jace Crouch described it as an "isolating colony of hell." Crouch was a former worker at an Amazon warehouse in Lakeland, Florida.
James Bloodworth, a reporter for The Guardian, went undercover as a worker at an Amazon warehouse in Rugeley, England. He found “a workplace environment in which decency, respect and dignity were absent.” One example he saw was workers pissing in Coke bottles instead of taking bathroom breaks. All due to threats of lost productivity and rampant performance monitoring.
Bloodworth also reported on how illnesses and sick days are tracked as misdemeanours that can lead to dismissal. The obvious and inevitable outcome of this is more workers get sick and injured. Freedom of information requests by the GMB union show over 600 ambulance calls in the UK over a three-year period. The Rugeley warehouse made 115 of them. A Tesco warehouse in the same area over the same period had only 8.
There are several cases where injured workers are treated poorly by Amazon. They are “being treated in ways that leave them homeless, unable to work, or bereft of income.” This is systemic legal abuse.
Sick and tired of big tech behaving badly? 20 Minutes into the Future is about holding the bastards to account. One way we can do that is by spreading the word of their misdeeds.
Agenda for Action
The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) and other groups are organising across the US to demand better of Amazon.
Workers and allies are driving calls for public accountability through demonstrations and walkouts.
COSH groups and other supporters are calling stronger protections for companies like Amazon that receive taxpayer subsidies. Such protections could include allowing workers to unionise.
There are calls to create shared accountability around healthy and safety issues between temp agencies and companies like Amazon.
The New Jersey Work Environment Council is developing a code of conduct for warehouses that receive public resources.
In Oakland, Worksafe and other advocates won a new law that established heat stress rules for indoor workers. Workers like Domingo Blancas have nearly died from working in metal containers over 110 degrees.
In Chicago, Warehouse Workers for Justice and other supporters won a new state law that strengthens protections for temporary workers.
We must fight for better. Lives our at stake. One thing you might consider is donating to The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.
Dig deeper with these stories from across the web:
The Dirty Dozen 2018: Employers Who Put Workers and Communities at Risk (National Council for Occupational Safety and Health)
The Dirty Dozen 2019 (National Council for Occupational Safety and Health)
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My name is Daniel Harvey and I write 20 Minutes into the Future. I’m a product designer and have written for Fast Company, Huffington Post, The Drum, & more. If you're pissed about the current state of tech and want to see us do better then you’ve found a kindred spirit.