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A new report says Amazon's Minnesota facilities have a high rate of worker injuries and pay people of color far less than white workers. 

The National Employment Law Project with help from the Awood Center, a local workers rights group, published the 38-page report on Wednesday, stating Amazon fails to provide safe, stable jobs that pay Minnesotans fairly. 

The report says although Amazon has profits in the billions, its continued growth comes with "human costs." And it calls on the State of Minnesota to take action against the online giant to address the harms its operations cause. 

"The picture that emerges is a troubling one. Amazon has fueled its rapid growth by employing workers — many of them Black — in extremely dangerous jobs that pay inadequate wages and are not designed to provide long-term employment," the report states. "The relentless pace of work at Amazon warehouses — which the company enforces through its invasive electronic surveillance systems and harsh disciplinary practices — has had devastating impacts on these workers’ bodies. And while Amazon expands its operations by undercompensating warehouse workers and pressuring them to work at unsafe speeds, the company’s profits have grown exponentially and reached new highs."

For the report, the National Employment Law Project looked at data from the U.S. census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), with a focus on Amazon's two oldest facilities in Minnesota, located in Shakopee. 

Among the findings in the report: 

High rates of injury at Amazon's Shakopee facilities:

One of the main points the report makes is how Amazon's management practices cause "extreme rates of injury," with Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota being twice as likely to get hurt at work than other warehouse workers in the state. 

Workers often suffer from musculoskeletal injuries caused by "highly repetitive forceful motions that workers are required to make as they lift, carry, pull, push, twist and bend to get the products to consumers," which can lead to a lifetime of chronic pain — even in younger workers, the report states. 

Amazon has "dangerous work-pace requirements," including "time off task" disciplinary policies and surveillance, where workers are tracked and penalized "for every second they are not actively doing assigned tasks" such as going to the bathroom or washing their hands, the report says. These policies contribute to often-preventable injuries and heighten workers' fear in reporting health and safety concerns. 

OSHA data from 2018-2020 showed there were 792 "recordable work-related injuries," or injuries that required medical treatment, transferring the worker to light-duty or missed work, the report said. That equates to 11.1 cases per 100 full-time-equivalent workers per year, or one injury for every nine workers each year.

That rate is more than double the rate of non-Amazon Minnesota warehouses and more than four times the average rate for all private industries in Minnesota.  

And the Shakopee fulfillment center has "consistently reported extremely high rates of injury," the report said. In fact, in 2020, no industry in Minnesota had a higher average injury rate than the Shakopee location.

Black workers paid far less than white workers:

Black warehouse workers in Scott County earn a monthly salary of $2,108, which is 37% less than what white warehouse workers in Scott County make, the report says. Most of the warehouses in Scott County are Amazon facilities. 

And Black workers are overrepresented in warehouses in Scott County, making up 38% of the workforce. Black workers make up 8% of the total workforce in Twin Cities warehouses, the report says. 

"Amazon has exploited existing labor market inequities to fuel its growth at the expense of the wellbeing of its workers and their families," the report states.

In addition to Black workers making less money, the wages for warehouse workers in Minnesota have declined more than 14% between 2015 and 2018, which coincide with the years Amazon began operating in Shakopee, the report says. And warehouses in Shakopee, which are mostly Amazon's warehouses, represent about one-third of all warehouse employment in the state. 

High turnover rates at Amazon's facilities:

Overall, Amazon's jobs in Minnesota, especially at the Shakopee facilities, are not stable nor long-term, the report alleges. The annual turnover rate at Amazon's Shakopee warehouses is as high as 170%, meaning that for every job at the facilities, almost two workers left their job over the course of a year. (A New York Times report from over the summer suggests this turnover rate is a feature — not a bug.)

At non-Amazon facilities, the turnover rate is about 61%. 

Many workers end up quitting or are fired from the Shakopee facilities and the company denies full-time permanent job status to a "significant portion" of the workforce, including seasonal workers and those hired through a staffing agency, the report says. The company uses these nonstandard employees to "erode labor standards and thwart worker organizing."

The report also says Amazon "breeds poverty" in communities because it diverts public dollars away from schools and libraries to finance roads and highways that lead to its facilities, and traffic around its facilities creates pollution that harms residents in Shakopee and contributes to climate change. 

Amazon's "predatory pricing" also has contributed to the "decline of competing retailers in Minnesota," the report states. 

Calls for action

The report says Minnesota officials, to start, should convene public hearings on Amazon's operations in Minnesota; have Minnesota OSHA investigate the health and safety hazards at Amazon's facilities; change state law to require rest breaks and reasonable workplace standards and ban harmful surveillance and disciplinary policies.

The National Employment Law Project says these steps would "mitigate some of the worst impacts of Amazon's presence" in Minnesota, "lay the groundwork" for Amazon to become a "responsible employer that will truly help Minnesota thrive," and help ensure Amazon "lives up to its promise to provide high-quality jobs and public benefit" to Minnesotans. 

Rep. Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis, this week said she plans to introduce a bill to address the issues detailed in the report. She, the Awood Center, and Amazon workers will hold a news conference on Monday, Dec. 13, to further discuss the report. 

“It is unacceptable that one of the most profitable companies in America is maximizing profit at the expense of the health and wellbeing of Minnesota workers," Greenman said. "Amazon’s labor practices treat their own workers as disposable while also reinforcing racial pay inequities and economic insecurity. Exploitative practices that threaten the safety of workers are unacceptable in Minnesota."

There are talks of holding a public hearing during a House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee meeting so current and former Amazon workers can share their experiences. Greenman said she would use their testimony to shape her bill. 

Over the past five years, Amazon has been growing its presence in Minnesota. It started with the nearly 900,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Shakopee, and since then it has built two other fulfillment and sortation centers, three delivery stations, one tech hub, one Prime Now hub, and one Amazon 4-Star store, as well as seven Whole Foods Markets, according to Amazon's website

Related [Oct. 13]: Amazon distribution center coming to Woodbury

The company touts that it has invested more than $3 billion in Minnesota since 2010 and has created more than 6,500 full- and part-time jobs.

"As Amazon pursues further expansion in Minnesota, it is time for Minnesota’s state government to also take bold steps to respond to the negative impacts of Amazon’s growing operations and address the specific harms affecting Minnesotans who have toiled to make that growth possible," the report said. 

Bring Me The News has reached out to Amazon for comment on the report. It has not heard back but the company did decline to comment on the report to other media outlets.

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