Amazon just announced plans to build two new fulfillment centers in Ohio, and some local officials are already doing cartwheels in celebration. But considering Amazon’s long history of over-promising and under-delivering when it comes to job creation and the drip-drip of troubling reports about brutal conditions inside Amazon warehouses, officials shouldn’t be so quick to roll out the red carpet.
Instead, they should be asking the hard questions, such as how long will these jobs last since the facilities are designed to be full of robots? And Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost should think hard about installing an oversight team to monitor conditions inside the five warehouses already in the state as well as the two new warehouses in Akron and Rossford, near Toledo.
Stories of worker deaths and Amazon’s callous response to worker injuries, disability accommodation needs and quality of life are all too common. In fact, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health has named Amazon at the top of their “Dirty Dozen” list for two years in a row, citing worker deaths caused by unsafe working conditions, inadequate emergency response plans, unsafe and unrealistic productivity requirements and the company’s heavy reliance on temporary employees.
The horrific conditions inside Amazon warehouses have been an open secret for years. An 2011 investigative report out of Pennsylvania was one of the first to expose the company’s alarming warehouse practices. Ever since, reports of Amazon warehouse workers experiencing extreme psychological distress, including suicide attempts, due to poor working conditions and the punishing pace demanded of them, are disturbingly frequent.
In fact, during Prime Day, Amazon’s recent two-day shopping blowout, warehouse workers in Minnesota courageously took to the streets to protest and demand better treatment. Local officials should heed their call: It’s time for local officials to start conducting inspections of Amazon warehouses; stationing health and safety inspectors at all warehouses owned and/or significantly controlled by Amazon; and conducting remote due diligence such as monitoring emergency medical calls from Amazon facilities.
State attorneys general should oversee these efforts and, when necessary, issue meaningful sanctions against the company for violations of safety and health regulations.
Lawmakers and regulators at the federal level also have an important role to play, and it’s welcome news that Democratic lawmakers recently sent a letter to the Department of Labor urging the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to launch an investigation into potential abuses inside Amazon facilities. But state attorneys general, with their unique ability to marshal resources locally, must lead the charge.
The bottom line is out of sight, out of mind is not an acceptable approach to accountability. The fact remains that Amazon has been either unwilling or unable to address the working conditions inside of its warehouses, and public officials have a responsibility to monitor and intervene.
Amazon is one of the largest employers in the country and has a significant presence in the Buckeye State. It can well afford to be a responsible, and even a good and caring employer to its warehouse workers.
Engel is the chief spokesman for the Free & Fair Markets Initiative.