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Supply Chain News: Amazon Takes More Heat, as Columbus, OH Worker Dies on Fulfillment Center Floor, another Worker Fired for Going to Hospital for Dying Relative

 

The Guardian Alleges Worker wasn't Found for 20 Minutes, Had Received Bad Advice from In-House Clinic the Week Before

Oct. 22, 2019
SCDigest Editorial Staff
     

For several years, Amazon has been under extreme scrutiny relative to working conditions at its fulfillment centers from a variety of worker advocates and some media outlets – notably The Guardian newspaper and web site in the UK, which has done significant reporting on the issue.

Last week, The Guadiana published a significant article on the death of an Amazon worker on an FC floor in Columbus, OH – with criticism over how the issue was handled. A number of other media also covered the story.

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Amazon says firings for exceeding time off limits are not automatic and that the company takes into account individual circumstances.


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The death of 48-year old Billy Foster actually occurred in early September, but the story really just got coverage last week, as Foster's brother leveled criticism of how Foster was treated both before and during the incident.

The Guardian article says Foster's brother Edward alleges that an Amazon human resources representative informed him at the hospital that Billy had lain on the FC floor for 20 minutes before receiving treatment from Amazon's internal safety responders.

"How can you not see a 6-foot 3-inch man lying on the ground and not help him within 20 minutes? A couple of days before, he put the wrong product in the wrong bin and within two minutes management saw it on camera and came down to talk to him about it," Edward Foster said.

Amazon, however, says it responded to Foster's collapse "within minutes."

Amazon also says Foster did not die in the FC, but rather at the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. That would seem to be rather a stretch of what really happened.

An anonymous worker who was there told The Guardian that "Bill was on the floor quite some time and nobody knew that time until cameras were reviewed, but in 20 minutes a worker in a nearby department saw him lying on the floor and then began radio callouts for 911. It really is unbelievable how Bill was laying there for 20 minutes and nobody nearby saw until an Amnesty worker with a radio came by."

The worker says that after witnessing what they were sure was an actual death, FC workers were told to get back to work right away after Foster was taken away by emergency personnel.

Edward Foster also question how his brother was treated a week before his sudden death, claiming that he had gone to FC's in-site clinic to report headaches and chest pains. According to Foster, his brother had his blood pressure taken and was told he was dehydrated, given two beverages to drink, and sent back to work.

"There was no reason for my brother to have died. He went to [the clinic] complaining about chest pains. He should have been sent to the hospital, not just sent back to work just to put things like toothpaste in a bin so somebody can get it in an hour," Edward said.

Of course, with hundreds of thousands of FC workers, some number could statistically be expected to suffer major medical incidents on the job at Amazon over a given period of time.


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However, in January 2019, the widow of 57-year-old FC worker Thomas Becker filed a lawsuit against Amazon, alleging management delayed medical attention during a cardiac arrest he experienced on the job.

The lawsuit is pending in federal court. Whether Foster's family will seek similar legal action is currently unknown.

An Amazon spokesperson commented that: "As a company, we work hard to provide a safe, quality working environment for the 250,000 hourly employees across Amazon's US facilities. Safety is a fundamental principle across our company and is inherent in our facility infrastructure, design, and operations."

Meanwhile, complaints against Amazon's time off policy for FC workers at a Sacramento facility.

Reports from The Verge and others say a woman name Sandra was on break from her nightshift at the Amazon sortation center in Sacramento when she saw the text that her mother-in-law had been put on life support.

She says with her manager's permission, she left work early to go to the hospital. Her mother-in-law's condition worsened the next day, and Sandra notified Amazon that she had to remain at the hospital.

Her mother-in-law died the next day, and Sandra called the facility again to request bereavement leave, of which Amazon offers three days.

However, Amazon grants workers limited time off, even without pay, and the time spent in the hospital had overdrawn Sandra's balance by one hour before the bereavement leave set in. After she returned to work, her manager informed her that she was fired.

That led workers at the facility to form a group called Amazonians United Sacramento. The group subsequently submitted a petition to the site manager and Amazon human resources demanding that Sandra be rehired and workers be given paid time off, which only applies currently to full-time employees.

Amazon says firings for exceeding time off limits are not automatic and that the company takes into account individual circumstances should employees require additional time off.

That did not seem to help Sandra in Sacramento.

Do you think Amazon has issues with how it treats FC workers - or it is being unfairly single out?Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


Marc Wulfraat

President, MWPVL International
Posted on: Oct, 22 2019
First off, thank you for bringing this unfortunate story to the front and center of our collective attention.  

This tragedy is certainly not without precedence as industrial facilities can be dangerous places and accidents do happen.  It is difficult to know the cause of death and not knowing the details of this particular situation, it is very difficult to establish an informed opinion.  I do believe it is fair to say that 20 minutes is far too long to not notice an emergency situation, particularly in an environment where every associate is under a real-time microscope for productivity rates.  The actions taken (or not taken) by managers during that time will tell the real story of what happened that day.   
 
Yes it must be challenging for Amazon to attract, recruit and retain 250,000 warehouse employees with turnover rates that can be as high as 100% annually in some buildings.  Yes it is challenging to design operations, processes and SOPs that ensure operator safety.  Yes it is challenging to create REASONABLE expectations for workers to perform their jobs without having to place themselves at risk of exhaustion. 

With a labor pool as large as Amazon's, one should realistically expect to see some negative press coverage from time to time.  But Amazon's track record in the area of labor relations is difficult to comprehend given their obsession with customer satisfaction.  After all, customers read these articles too and eventually responsible customers question whether they want to support the firms that they are buying from.  
 
 
 

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