Amazon insists NJ worker’s death wasn’t work-related. Not so fast, congressman says.

 Amazon insists NJ worker's death wasn't work-related.  Not so fast, congressman says.

“We’re grateful for the quick actions of our own teams and the first responders. This has been a tragic situation for our employee’s family and for our colleagues at EWR9 (the Amazon facility designation) who worked with him,” Stephenson said. “We are in contact with his family to offer support and are providing counseling resources to employees needing additional care.”

His email didn’t identify the worker, but did confirm he was a “water spider” — a worker who helps keep other employees stocked with needed materials. He said Amazon learned about the worker’s chest pains from a fellow employee during his own investigation, but that the pains hadn’t been reported to colleagues on-site.

Increased scrutiny

Just days after the Carteret worker’s death, OSHA inspected Amazon warehouses in the areas of New York City, Chicago and Orlando for potential hazards, based on referrals from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The district office is also asking current and former Amazon warehouse workers for accounts of their experiences via its website.

The office “is investigating workplace safety and related issues at Amazon warehouses, including injuries resulting from workplace hazards, worker rate requirements and the pace of work, and whether Amazon appropriately reported on-the-job injuries,” it says on the contact form.

Norcross called that “extremely unusual.”

“OSHA, who has primary jurisdiction, and quite frankly are the experts on this, is reviewing what we asked them to do,” he said, referencing the letter he and colleagues sent this spring. “What we don’t know is what the US Attorney’s Office is getting involved for.”

A report by a Rutgers researcher and think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective in April found that in 2021, Amazon accounted for 47% of all employment in New Jersey’s general warehouse and storage industry — but 57% of serious injuries in the sector.

The report found that nationwide, the serious injury rate among workers at Amazon warehouses was more than twice the serious injury rate at all other warehouse employers.

New Jersey is home to 53 Amazon facilities, and the company employs 49,000 people in the Garden State, Nicole Rodriguez, Policy Perspectives research director and an author of the report, tested to New Jersey legislators in May. But she pointed to findings she found worrying — for instance, that the total recordable injury rate among Amazon warehouse employees in 2021 was 5.8 per 100 workers, up from 3.8 in 2020.

“New Jersey is almost becoming Amazon’s staging ground to build and strengthen its presence across the country,” she said. “Amazon needs our public assets — our roads, highways, and ports — which unfortunately exacerbates pollution. … But, ultimately, they need our workers. And we need enforceable standards to protect our workers.”

After the report’s release, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told the company’s recordable injury rate nationwide actually dropped from 2019 to 2021 — by more than 13% — “while the three other large retailers in our industry saw their rates increase.” She also said the company spent $300 million on safety upgrades at its facilities in 2021.

Amazon and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently walked away from a deal to open a hub at Newark Liberty International Airport — a proposal that had been opposed by community and activists who said the area was already overburdened by pollution, and that the company wouldn’t commit to the labor and environmental standards they sought.

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