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New York advocates seek warehouse worker safety legislation

Amazon worker Keith Williams speaks during a rally at the New York State Capitol
WAMC image capture from video provided by ALIGN NY
Amazon worker Keith Williams speaks during a rally at the New York State Capitol

Workers’ rights advocates are pushing for state legislation in New York that would strengthen oversight to address what they say are unsafe conditions in warehouses and shipping facilities.

“What do we want?”

“Justice!”

“When do we want it?”

“Now!”

Warehouse workers, union members, and state lawmakers rallied Wednesday at the New York State Capitol in Albany in support of the Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act. The advocates say the legislation is needed to address a safety crisis.

Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat who chairs the State Senate Committee on Labor, is the bill’s lead sponsor.

“We know that there is a rise in the warehouse industry, that New Yorkers want their packages now, now, now,” said Ramos. “But then that means that we have to have rules at these warehouses that actually protect human beings.”

Ramos’ bill would require employers to establish injury reduction programs.

The legislation cites federal Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers showing the warehouse industry reports a rate for serious work-related injuries involving lost time or restricted duties at four cases per 100 full-time workers. That’s more than twice the average injury rate for private industry.

Advocates with the group ALIGN NY presented 2022 statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration compiled by the National Employment Law Project on injury rates at Amazon warehouses. According to the numbers, Amazon’s ALB1 warehouse in Schodack, a 15-minute drive from the state capitol, topped the list with an injury rate of nearly 19 per 100 workers. Workers at the Rensselaer County facility unsuccessfully attempted to unionize in 2022.

Keith Williams, who works at Amazon’s SWF1 facility in Orange County, described an injury he sustained last year.

“In August I was in a trailer putting boxes on a moving conveyor. And when boxes began to shift, I moved to avoid being struck by a wall of boxes and a computer desk impacted the base of my neck,” said Williams.

Williams said he felt dizzy and nauseous and reported his injury.

“I was bombarded with questions about what I had done, and they weren't able to offer any care or direction beyond ice packs or aspirin. And I took it upon myself to say that I needed to go to actual urgent care. My incident could have been avoided,” said Williams.

Amazon says it is working to reduce injury rates.

In a statement, spokesperson Sharyn Ghacham said:

“Safety is our top priority, and while we know we aren’t perfect, accusations from critics and special interest groups are intentionally misleading to suit their narrative. The fact is, since 2019, Amazon has reduced its rate of recordable injuries across the U.S by 23% and our overall injury rates are in line with the industry average. But we don't just want to be average. We’ll continue to invest in safety as we work to improve every day.”

Supporters are seeking $5 million in the next state budget for the Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act. ALIGN NY Executive Director Theodore Moore says there is “no reason” the funding should not be included in the $233 billion spending plan proposed by Governor Kathy Hochul.

“When we talked about a drop in the bucket, we really literally mean that it's a small price to pay for worker safety and a fraction of the executive budget,” said Moore.

 

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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