He kick-started the probe through a June 20 letter addressed to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy. The Vermont senator demanded information about the company's "systematically under-reported" injury rates, employee turnover, productivity targets and adherence to federal and state safety recommendations. Sanders gave Jassy and Amazon a July 5 deadline to respond to his letter.
"Amazon sets an example for the rest of the country," said Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). "What Amazon does – their attitude … [and] lack of respect for workers – permeates the American corporate world." Sanders has often denounced Amazon, the nation's second-largest employer, in his speeches regarding income inequality and corporate greed in the United States.
Sanders described Amazon's warehouse conditions as "uniquely dangerous" in his letter to the company's CEO. He cited his own conversations with Amazon warehouse workers, earlier government probes that found health and safety violations at Amazon facilities, and a recent report compiled by a coalition of labor unions as evidence to back up his description. According to the report that used federal data, Amazon's serious-injury rate was double the warehouse industry average in 2021.
"Amazon is one of the most valuable companies in the world, worth $1.3 trillion. Its founder Jeff Bezos is one of the richest men in the world, worth nearly $150 billion," Sanders wrote. "Amazon should be one of the safest places in America to work, not one of the most dangerous."
When asked whether he would invite Jassy or Bezos to testify in his committee's hearing, Sanders remarked that it is "an absolute possibility."
Amazon spokesman Steve Kelly confirmed that the Washington-based tech firm received Sanders' letter and was "in the early stages of reviewing it." He added that the Senate HELP Committee chairman had an open invitation to tour one of Amazon's warehouses.
"We've invested more than $1 billion into safety initiatives, projects and programs in the last four years, and we'll continue investing and inventing in this area because nothing is more important than our employees' safety," Kelly said. The spokesman also noted that Amazon has recorded a 23 percent reduction in workplace injuries since 2019.
Sanders previously criticized the company due to the measly hourly wage it had been paying employees. This led Amazon to announce that it would raise its base hourly pay rate to $15 – more than twice the federally mandated minimum wage – back in 2018
"We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do and decided we want to lead," said Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. "We're excited about this change, and [we] encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us."
The Vermont senator said in a recent interview that while he was "appreciative" of Amazon's 2018 decision to raise hourly pay, he had been "extremely upset by their vehement anti-union behavior" and workplace safety record. Sanders has repeatedly admonished Amazon for the former.
In 2022, Amazon warehouse employees in Staten Island voted to join the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU). In April of this year, delivery drivers for a third-party contractor in southern California joined the International Brotherhood of Teamsters labor union. Kelly also took the opportunity to voice out the company's responses to these unionizing efforts. (Related: Amazon delivery drivers stage first-ever WALKOUT as part of strike.)
According to him, "Amazon strongly disagrees" with the outcome of the union elections in Staten Island. He slammed the federal labor board and the ALU itself, alleging that both had "improperly influenced the outcome of the election."
Moreover, Kelly argued that the Amazon delivery drivers in southern California that joined the Teamsters did not work directly under the company, but for a third-party partner. The spokesman continued that the contractor "had been notified of its termination for poor performance well before the union announcement."
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