Wash. agency says Amazon willfully violated safety laws at warehouse

2 minute read

An employee scans packages at Amazon's JFK8 distribution center in Staten Island, New York, U.S. November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

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  • Agency says fast pace of warehouse work put employees at risk
  • Amazon is appealing three similar fines from the agency
  • Union group says new fine is first to allege "willful" violation

(Reuters) - Washington's state labor department on Monday said it had fined Amazon.com Inc $60,000 for violating workplace safety laws by requiring warehouse employees to perform repetitive motions at a fast pace, increasing their risk of injury.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries said that because Amazon previously had similar citations at three other warehouses in the state, the violations at the Kent, Washington facility were willful and subject to higher fines.

The citation requires Amazon to submit a written plan to L&I within 60 days detailing ways the company will address safety issues related to the pace of warehouse work. The three earlier fines are being appealed by the company.

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Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company strongly disagrees with the agency's findings and plans to appeal the new citation.

The online retailer has for years been criticized by advocacy groups and unions for the speed at which it requires workers to fill orders and its higher-than-average rates of injuries at warehouses. Those concerns have been central to union organizing campaigns at individual facilities.

But the new fine marks the first time that a state agency has cited Amazon for willfully violating workplace safety laws, according to the Strategic Organizing Center, a federation of labor unions.

Eric Frumin, the SOC's director of health and safety, said in an email that the state agency's move sends a message that Amazon's business model is under greater scrutiny.

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.