By Stewart Appelbaum
More people are shopping online, buying everything from toothpaste and tissues to desks and dining tables. As a result, warehouse facilities are popping up across New York at staggering numbers; Amazon alone has opened nearly 70 facilities in the state and over half of those facilities have been built since January 2021. At the same time, we have seen increased stress, pain, and resulting safety issues for warehouse workers, due to increased quotas and speeds.
Unsafe work speeds, unreasonable work quotas, dangerous work, and insufficient breaks all contribute to the skyrocketing rate of injuries and sickness in the industry – including heart attacks, strokes, repetitive motion injuries, and irreparable life-long joint and back pain. At Amazon, the injury rate is 54% higher than the average rate for the state’s warehousing industry – and even that is a staggering misrepresentation of the reality given how many injuries at Amazon go unreported.
Regulations protecting workers in the warehousing industry have lagged far behind its rapid growth. The RWDSU has long prioritized the challenge of protecting warehouse workers from stress induced injuries and illness from limitless quotas.
The RWDSU encouraged the introduction of the Warehouse Worker Protection Act (WWPA – A10020/S8922), modeled after similar legislation signed into law in California last year. The law would help protect workers from inhumane quotas – quotas that have caused workers lifelong injuries and outrageously, in some cases, their lives. The WWPA would require that quotas, which are oftentimes completely unknown to workers, be transparent. And it would prevent workers from being disciplined if they fail to meet these quotas, especially if it’s due to basic human needs like bathroom and water breaks. Research shows that many of these injuries and illnesses are preventable and are the result of mismanagement that prioritizes speed and productivity for profits over workers’ safety. The WWPA would create important boundaries to protect warehouse industry workers from the brutal line speeds and quotas that are driving injuries and sickness at New York’s warehouses.
The rise of e-commerce has forever changed the retail sector. Just because the work has changed doesn’t mean workers shouldn’t be protected. We will continue to fight to ensure workers and their health and safety are protected. Without the WWPA, workers will suffer.
Our coalition of workers, community groups and unions took a huge step and achieved a big win for workers’ safety when the WWPA passed the NYS legislature. This critical bill needs to be signed into law so it can start helping workers who need it now more than ever.
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