Senators Sanders, Warren and others demand Amazon overhaul ‘profit-at-all costs culture’

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (Facebook Photo / Bernie Sanders)

More than a dozen high-profile U.S. Senators are urging Amazon to change its workplace culture and implement new safety measures at its warehouses across the country.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — both candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination — and 12 of their colleagues sent a letter Friday to Amazon detailing their concerns. The letter, made public Monday, is in response to reporting that revealed a higher-than-average injury rate at the fulfillment centers that power Amazon’s retail business.

“Amazon’s dismal safety record indicates a greater concern for profits than for your own workers’ safety and health,” the letter says. “We urge you to overhaul this profit-at-all costs culture at your company and take the immediate steps identified in this letter to ensure Amazon’s managers treat your workers fairly and do not require them to risk their own health and safety in the course of doing their jobs.”

Amazon says its injury numbers are higher than competitors because the company keeps meticulous records to protect worker safety.

“There’s a dramatic level of under-recording of safety incidents across the industry – we recognized this in 2016 and began to take an aggressive stance on recording injuries no matter how big or small,” an Amazon spokesperson said in November.

The Senators want Amazon to reduce worker quotas and speed requirements, relax bathroom break restrictions, provide adequate medical care for workers, conduct an evaluation of the physical impact of all warehouse tasks, and publish records of serious injuries.

Amazon has become a frequent target of the presidential hopefuls and others on the left. In recent months, Amazon has been hitting back at its critics in a dramatic departure from the early days when the company was known for keeping its head down.

Just a few days after the Senators sent their letter, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Amazon government affairs chief Jay Carney, provocatively titled “Why Bernie Sanders Praised Amazon.” In it, the Obama White House alum celebrates the wages and benefits Amazon offers to its employees. Carney characterizes criticism from politicians as unfair and charges Congress with enacting stronger labor laws. Amazon published a blog post Monday highlighting key points from Carney’s op-ed.

“If Congress were to follow our lead, all it would take to greatly improve the lives of America’s lowest-paid workers is the president’s signature,” Carney wrote.

Sanders did praise Amazon on Twitter and, Carney claims, in a phone call in 2018 when the company raised the minimum wage for all employees to $15 an hour. That policy change followed months of criticism from Sanders, who ultimately introduced a bill that would have forced Bezos to cover the costs of government assistance that Amazon employees receive.

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” Bezos said at the time.

In addition to the minimum wage, Carney noted that all Amazon employees, from software engineers to warehouse workers, receive the same health and parental leave benefits. Amazon also covers up to 95 percent of tuition for worker training programs and plans to spend $700 million on upskilling 100,000 domestic employees by 2025.

“While we fully agree that a company of Amazon’s size should be scrutinized, we also believe people should know that Amazon is doing exactly what many lawmakers and critics insist the private sector should do,” Carney wrote.

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