Excessive injuries, low pay at Amazon warehouses cause high turnover, report claims
The high turnover rate at Amazon warehouses means for every Amazon warehouse job in the state, more than one worker is let go or quits each year. (Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Governor's Office)
Unrealistic expectations, low pay, and excessive injuries are leading to skyrocketing turnover rates at Amazon warehouses in New Jersey, according to a new report released Thursday by a worker advocacy group.
In 2020, turnover at Amazon warehouses was about 124% across New Jersey — meaning for every Amazon warehouse job in the state, more than one worker is let go or quits each year. That’s double the rate seen at non-Amazon warehouses, and it means the entire workforce is replaced every 10 months, according to the report from The National Employment Law Project.
Mercer County, where the state’s first Amazon warehouse opened in 2014, rose from a 32% turnover rate to 113% in the eight years since the tech giant’s arrival, the report claims. The highest turnover rate is in Gloucester County, which sees its workforce leave at a rate of 137%.
The report raises questions about the quality of the jobs Amazon is bringing to New Jersey. The e-commerce behemoth is the second-largest employer in the state.
Paul Blundell, a Philadelphia resident working at the Amazon warehouse in Bellmawr, said he’s lost count of the number of people who work with him.
“It’s incredible. When new waves of people come in, sometimes I don’t try to learn their names for the first month or two just to see whether or not they stick around,” Blundell told the New Jersey Monitor.
The report attributes Amazon’s turnover rate to unsustainable work expectations, high injury rates, monitoring systems that often lead to termination and discipline, low chances of promotions, and more.
An Amazon spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
The National Employment Law Project analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s quarterly workforce indicators, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and previous news coverage on warehouses across the country to compile its report. Irene Tung, a researcher and author of the report, conducted a similar study into Amazon warehouses in California.
While she’s not new to analyzing Amazon’s practices, she said it never fails to shock her to see the statistics. In counties with no Amazon warehouses, the warehouse turnover rate is roughly 72%, while counties that are home to Amazon warehouses see an average turnover of 117%, she said.
According to the report, Amazon told workers in Bellmawr the warehouse would close and most people would be transferred to a warehouse in nearby Paulsboro. But some workers leaned they’d be transferred to facilities farther away, and they walked out in response to the about-face.
Blundell, a fulfillment associate who packages boxes and loads them into vans, said he had his shift of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. changed to 2:40 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. His only other alternative, other than quitting, was to take a shift starting at 1:10 a.m., he said.
“It’s fairly grueling. That was the choice that was forced upon us. I and everyone else I work with were pretty upset, because we built the shifts — a relatively normal shift — into our lives,” he said. “It’s impossible to have a good night’s sleep.”
He said he feels bad for the parents who had their lives upended. Many of his coworkers with kids take naps before and after work and show up fatigued, he said. They spend the latter hours of nearly 11-hour shifts lugging around boxes weighing up to 50 pounds and stacking them on shelves six feet high, he said.
Recode reported last week that an internal Amazon memo shows the company will have exhausted its labor force by 2024.
Blundell is organizing his coworkers at the Bellmawr warehouse to form a union with Amazonians United. He said they've already succeeded at getting some working conditions improved — like being able to push a button to stop the belt after a package falls off. Previously, that had been a fireable offense, he said.
The report's release comes in advance of a Thursday meeting of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Amazon critics have assailed the agency's board of commissioners for their approval of a $300 million freight hub for Amazon at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Labor activists and environmental advocates have urged the board to pull out of the deal — the lease was approved at a meeting when it wasn't on the public agenda — to no avail. They say the hub will add to the pollution in urban areas already suffering from heavy emissions from trucks and planes.
The Port Authority announced last August it was entering a 20-year lease agreement with Amazon's private air cargo service that delivers expedited packages. Amazon said it will create 1,000 jobs at the airport. It's unclear if the lease is signed.
U.S. Rep Donald Payne, state Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union), Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage all oppose the plan. Some state lawmakers have spoken out after previous reports published that criticized Amazon's labor practices, but no legislation has been advanced that would limit Amazon's power in the state.
"New Jersey officials need to take action to make sure that Amazon isn't allowed to keep doing business as usual or keep expanding in New Jersey at a breakneck pace without clear commitment to the public about job quality and that Amazon will not obstruct workers' efforts to unionize," Tung said.
The report recommends officials enact worker protection legislation similar to California and New York. In those states, bills are advancing that would limit electronic monitoring, require warehouse employers, including Amazon, to be transparent about quotas, and prevent companies from limiting certain meal and bathroom breaks.
California law requires state agencies to inspect facilities with injury rates exceeding 1.5 times the state average, and a similar bill in New York is sitting on the governor's desk.
"Jersey should definitely do that," said Tung. "I think what we need to make sure that elected officials understand and leadership understands is that Amazon is the standard-bearer, and Amazon is driving the race to the bottom in the warehouse sector and beyond."
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