A federal judge in Seattle has ruled that Washington’s state Department of Labor and Industries did not violate the tech giant’s right of due process when it required Amazon to implement safety upgrades while the company appeals the state’s citations for unsafe working conditions at its warehouses.
After state regulators cited Amazon in October for allegedly failing to create a safe work environment at its warehouses, Amazon filed suit in federal court claiming its constitutional right to due process was violated because it was expected to implement safety upgrades while it appeals the citation.
In a ruling on Tuesday, US District Judge John Coughenour found that the speed of the upgrade is warranted because Amazon’s workers are toiling under conditions the state has found to be unsafe—and because the company failed to notify its workers that it was appealing the state’s citations—the Seattle Times reported.
Coughenour said in his ruling the requirement to notify workers of an appeal is not a “technicality,” it “ensures those affected most, employees, have the opportunity to be heard.” In a statement, Joel Sacks, who heads Washington’s labor department, said the decision upholds a state law protecting workers.
“Unless they are granted a stay, employers have to fix the hazards that put their workers at risk even while they appeal the underlying citation. The court reaffirmed an important protection for workers in Washington,” Sacks said.
Through a spokesperson, Amazon said it “disagrees with the ruling” and is evaluating its options.
“The reality is that we’re already doing many of the things [the Department of Labor and Industry] claims to be seeking, and our employees’ safety is and always has been our top priority,” spokesperson Maureen Lynch Vogel said, the newspaper reported.
The ruling from the federal district court in Seattle could have national implications for Amazon. Last month, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration disclosed a bevy of citations it has issued for workforce safety violations at Amazon warehouses.
After a series of inspections that began in July, OSHA said it found Amazon failed to properly record work-related injuries, failed to provide a safe workplace and had structured its operations in a way that exposes its workers to risk of injuries.
Specifically, OSHA cited Amazon for failing to report workplace injuries at six of its warehouses. The federal workplace safety monitor reported that workers at all six warehouses faced a high risk of lower back injuries and musculoskeletal disorders.
OSHA said the high risk at these logistics facilities was due to long hours, awkward and repetitive motions and the weight of items workers are lifting, picking and packing, the Seattle Times reported.
“Amazon’s operating methods are creating hazardous work conditions and processes, leading to serious worker injuries,” Doug Parker, assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, said in a statement.
“They need to take these injuries seriously and implement a companywide strategy to protect their employees from these well-known and preventable hazards,” Parker said.
OSHA opened its investigation into Amazon facilities after state regulators in Washington in 2021 accused the Seattle-based tech giant of ignoring worker safety during Amazon’s frenetic effort to double the size of its logistic network during the pandemic.
The state agency investigated a complaint from a worker at Amazon’s Kent, WA facility—a 1M SF mega-warehouse that employs 2,600 people—and said it found multiple violations that the regulators called “willful, serious” violations. To date, the regulators have cited three Amazon facilities in Washington for violations.
In July, OSHA opened inspections at Amazon warehouses in Deltona, FL; Waukegan, IL; and New Windsor, NY. It began investigating three more facilities in Aurora, CO; Nampa, ID and Castleton, NY in August.
OSHA discovered that warehouse workers at these facilities were required to pack 70 boxes in an hour for up to 11 hours a day, with two 30-minute breaks. They also were required to reach across conveyors and lift totes holding 20-pound cases of water in an awkward position that resulting in torn wrist ligaments.
OSHA began issuing citations in December, the last batch coming on Wednesday when the violations were made public. According to this week’s report in the Seattle Times, as many as 10 Amazon facilities now have been cited. Washington has assessed fines and penalties totaling $81,000 against Amazon, while OSHA’s proposed penalties against the e-retailer total $152K.
The US Department of Justice is investigating whether Amazon “engaged in a fraudulent scheme designed to hide the true number of injuries” to its workers, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.