‘They cannot go to the bathroom.’ Connecticut warehouse workers call for more protections

At a legislative hearing Thursday, warehouse workers claimed that speed is coming at the expense of their health and safety.

John Craven

Mar 2, 2023, 11:43 PM

Updated 444 days ago

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You can order almost anything on your phone and it's on your doorstep the same day. But at a legislative hearing Thursday, warehouse workers claimed that speed is coming at the expense of their health and safety.
At Amazon's massive fulfillment center in North Haven, workers can ship up to 12 million orders a week. But that efficiency comes at a cost. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Amazon injuries in Connecticut jumped 20% between 2020 and 2021.
In a hearing before the legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee, two workers compared Amazon warehouses to sweatshops.
“It's just so unfair. They're not being fair to the workers,” Minnesota Amazon employee Khali Jama testified. “They cannot go to the bathroom. They work 10 hour shifts, four days a week.”
One Connecticut worker, who concealed his identity to protect his job, claimed Amazon set a production quota of packing three boxes per minute.
“Every day I come into work at Amazon, I'm being pushed to the edge to meet these quotas,” he said.
A proposed Warehouse Workers Protection Act would require companies to clearly explain production quotas in writing – and those quotas could not prevent employees from taking meal or bathroom breaks. Warehouses accused of violating the rules could face lawsuits – not just from employees, but also the Connecticut Department of Labor or the state attorney general.
“We're asking you to pass this bill to treat people like people and not treat people like they're machines,” said Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne.
Amazon did not attend the hearing or submit written testimony. In a statement to News 12 Connecticut, a company spokesperson pushed back on the workers’ claims.
“A common misperception is that Amazon has quotas, but we do not,” the statement said. “We don’t require employees to meet fixed productivity speeds or targets. Like any business, we have performance expectations for our teams, but they’re based on multiple factors including how the team at a particular site is performing. In addition, employees have regularly scheduled breaks during the day and can take informal breaks to stretch, get water, use the restroom, or talk to a manager.”
Amazon also said it provides multiple bathrooms on each floor of its fulfillment centers, that are “a short walk from an employee’s workstation.”
In Connecticut, OSHA has only received one complaint against Amazon. It was later closed. Workers told lawmakers that’s because most employees too afraid to speak up.
“Amazon literally fires every day,” said Jama. “You hear people losing their job because they didn't understand because you don't deal with a person, you're dealing with an app.”
In response, Amazon said, “Like most businesses, we have reasonable expectations of our team to ensure that they’re meeting the requirements of the job and performing as well as their peers. All employees are given several months of training, and if they still aren’t performing as well as their peers, they are then given additional training. The vast majority of our team easily meets their goals.”
Under the bill, facilities with too many injuries could face a state labor investigation. Business groups said it will have a chilling effect.
“This would result in injury to employees and increased turnover at a time when employers are spending exorbitant amounts of money just to find an retain employees,” said Eric Gejde with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
To submit testimony on the bill, click here.


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