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Feds investigating workplace safety at Amazon warehouses

The Justice Department is investigating possible workplace safety issues at Amazon warehouses and whether injuries were hidden from inspectors.
Image: Amazon Warehouse
A woman works at a packing station at the 855,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, in N.Y., on Feb. 5, 2019.Johannes Eisele / AFP via Getty Images file

Federal workplace inspectors went to Amazon warehouses in several cities Monday as the Justice Department investigates possible safety issues and whether injuries were hidden, a U.S. official said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration went to warehouses outside New York City, Chicago and Orlando, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said.

The spokesman, Nicholas Biase, said that among the possible worker hazards is “Amazon’s required pace of work for its warehouse employees.”

"The Civil Division of the is investigating potential worker safety hazards at Amazon warehouses across the country, as well as possible fraudulent conduct designed to hide injuries from OSHA and others," Biase said, referring to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

A statement from an Amazon spokesperson Tuesday said: We’ll of course cooperate with OSHA in their investigation, and we believe it will ultimately show that these concerns are unfounded.”

A different Amazon spokesperson on Tuesday confirmed an employee death. The employee died at a New Jersey warehouse during Amazon's Prime Days earlier this month, NBC New York reported.

Sam Stephenson, an Amazon spokesperson, said the company was "deeply saddened by the passing of one of our colleagues and offer our condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time."

"We’ve contacted his family to offer support and will provide counseling resources to employees needing additional care," he added.

Workers who have tried to form unions at Amazon warehouses have complained about the pace and working conditions.

In March, Washington state’s Department of Labor cited Amazon and fined the retail giant for “strenuous work at an unsafe pace” at a fulfillment center in Kent.

A spokesperson for Amazon told NBC affiliate KING of Seattle that the company strongly disagreed with the labor agency and intend to appeal.

Biase said Monday that OSHA entered the warehouses Monday on referrals from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. That U.S. attorney’s office is one of the most high-profile federal prosecutor’s offices in the United States.

Biase’s statement did not refer to any specific incidents at Amazon warehouses, but the U.S. attorney’s office included ways that members of the public and current and former workers can report issues.

It mentioned safety issues related to the pace of work, as well as failure to report injuries and a failure to receive proper care at Amazon’s first-aid center or at provided recommended by the company.

Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon and who was its CEO until stepping down last year, in a final letter to shareholders last year took issue with reports that characterized workers as being treated like robots, writing "that’s not accurate."

“We don’t set unreasonable performance goals," Bezos said in the April 2021 letter, writing that employees are able to take informal breaks in addition to their designated breaks.

Requests for comment from OSHA were not immediately returned Monday night.

A Department of Labor spokesperson told CNBC that it opened investigations at Amazon warehouses in New York, Illinois and Florida and that the agency regularly receives referrals from federal agencies, law enforcement and other groups.

In April, workers at a Staten Island, New York, warehouse became the first in the nation to vote to unionize.

The workers at the Staten Island warehouse voted to join the Amazon Labor Union, which was formed independently by current and former employees of the tech giant. Workers at a second Staten Island facility in May voted against unionizing.