A PANDEMIC OF INJURIES AT AMAZON (AND BEYOND)

The COVID pandemic caused a boom in delivery work ranging from restaurants and grocery stores to internet giant Amazon.  According to a new report from the Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), which is a coalition project of the Service Employees International Union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Communication Workers of America, and the United Farmworkers of America, the pandemic resulted in Amazon doubling its capacity – and tripling its profits.  It also became the third-largest parcel carrier and is on track to become the largest parcel carrier – even bigger than the United States Postal Service.

Unfortunately, Amazon’s vast expansion of delivery capacity and services was accompanied by a huge increase in both the total number of workplace injuries and the rate at which they occurred.  Nearly one in five delivery drivers suffered an on-the-job injury during the pandemic – a 40% increase from pre-pandemic levels.  The most common causes of injury were slip and fall accidents, exertion-related injuries like lifting or bending, dog bites and motor vehicle accidents. 

SOC attributed the pandemic surge of injuries at Amazon to factors including delivery quotas and production pressure, which are consistent with other reports about Amazon’s business model.  It seems likely that these same pressures affected a wide range of workers in service and delivery occupations during the pandemic, when consumer demand in those industries skyrocketed.

It is likely that New York’s data about the pandemic injury rate in delivery occupations significantly underestimates the scale of the issue because many food and parcel delivery workers are presently considered to be “independent contractors” under New York law.  As a result, their occupational injuries are not reported to governmental agencies (like OSHA or the New York State Department of Labor) or workers’ compensation insurers.  The lack of coverage thus leads to a lack of reporting, making these very real injuries that have real consequences for workers and their families essentially invisible to policymakers. The clear solution is for New York to finally address “gig economy” employment in a meaningful way.

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