COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

Articles Posted in Amazon

Grocery store and delivery workers have recently been thrown into the front lines in the battle against the most dangerous pandemic in 100 years. As business after business shuts down, food delivery has become one of the most important parts of the economy. Across the country, workers at places like Amazon, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger, Domino’s, Costco, Uber Eats, Chipotle, and McDonalds have received much deserved praise and admiration for providing essential services to millions of people sheltered and isolated at home. While these employers are increasing wages and making promises to provide protective equipment, workers are still falling ill. What’s more, is that these employees are still getting hurt on the job and they still aren’t fully aware of their rights to compensation. While drivers involved in car accidents often have the ability to file two different claims, workers contracting Covid on the job are being left in the dark by their companies.

The family of a Chicago-area Walmart employee filed a lawsuit against the company for wrongful death alleging that Walmart failed to keep its employee safe from the Coronavirus. In fact, two Evergreen Park employees died just four days apart from Covid. Both employees were long-term Walmart associates with nine and fifteen years of dedicated service. While legal scholars highly doubt the chances of a civil lawsuit for a work-related injury succeeding, there is no doubt that these co-workers’ families are within their rights to file a workers’ compensation claims for death benefits. In Illinois, workers’ compensation death benefits are paid for 25 years or up to $500,000.00, whichever is greater. While many lawyers would file for workers’ compensation benefits in a situation like this, a civil action, if not dismissed in the early stages of the case, still runs the risk of Walmart claiming many different highly-factual defenses. For instance, Walmart is already disputing the family’s timeline of how the deaths of its employees took place. Bottom line, Walmart will claim that the employees were not present when they contracted the disease. Like with most legal cases, corporations and employers like Walmart will hire expert doctors who almost always give an opinion that the injury or illness simply was not caused by anything on the job or the incident itself.

The concern with these deaths around Chicago is the lack of personal protective equipment at Walmart. While OSHA and the CDC may look into the matter, companies are trying to get ahead of the disease by doing their own testing and providing more protective equipment. At a minimum, these deaths have prompted companies to disinfect and sanitize the work place. Amazon has recently been testing disinfectant fog to clean warehouses and distribution centers. Regardless of whether Amazon makes a difference in the health and safety of their employees, the company has plans to hire at least 100,000 additional workers. On the one hand, the extra workers will be necessary to help with the heavy increase in demand for the necessities of life being delivered to millions of homes. On the other hand, many workers suspect that Amazon is planning to use the additional workers to fill the vacant spots of sick and injured workers who not only get hurt in slip and fall incidents or get hit by forklifts, but also for those who contract Covid and are off work for at least two weeks. The spread of the disease at Amazon warehouses is so prevalent that more than fifty Amazon warehouses have reported Coronavirus cases. This comes as no surprise when a typical warehouse worker touches as many as two thousand items per day and many of them do this without personal protection.

The world is watching the dedication and courage of Amazon workers hour by hour each day through this crisis. Amazon management has clearly taken notice of their importance and provided wage increases. Still, without more safety protections at these warehouses, Amazon workers are becoming more worried about their health and the health of their families in these uncertain times. To protect against work accidents involving Covid-19, Amazon workers at distribution and fulfillment centers were informed via text message on Sunday that it was recommended that they wear a mask to work. Most people would presume that Amazon would be supplying the masks, but as it turns out Amazon only has a limited number of masks. When an employee wants a mask, the employee has to ask managers for a mask. The text message set out the following information to employees:

“Your health and safety is most important. We recommend everyone wears a facemask of some kind covering their nose and mouth from arrival through departure of your shift. We will have facemasks in limited quantities for anyone entering the building to wear as a recommended preventative measure, and if you prefer you may bring your own mask, including fabric masks. We have teams working nonstop to continue sourcing supplies, including masks, and are working hard to stay in stock with masks during this event. If you would like a mask, please ask a manager or designated “Hand-out POC” at the start of your shift. The mask should be used by one person for the shift and not be shared. You must also know how to use it and dispose of it safely. Details will be posted around the site.”

As with other recent concerning aspects of inadequate job safety and training at fulfillment and distribution centers, many Amazon workers are deeply concerned that the company is focused more on production than well-being and work injuries, especially given the recent hiring increases that serve as a reminder that the non-union workforce at Amazon is replaceable in management’s eyes.

Today, warehouse workers have a lot to worry about during this COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the current pandemic, some warehouse workers had considerable cause for concern about their workplace safety, especially if they worked for Amazon. Reports looking at numbers from 2018 showed that Amazon’s reported serious injury rate far exceeded the industry average, sometimes more than tripling the national average for warehouse facilities. Warehouse injuries can be serious, and sometimes even be permanently disabling. To be sure you are getting all the compensation you deserve for your Illinois warehouse accident, be sure you have the right legal representation by retaining a knowledgeable Chicago workers’ compensation attorney.

In February, The Hill covered an effort by certain U.S. Senators urging Amazon to improve worker conditions at its warehouses in the U.S. The senators, who included Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin and Sherrod Brown, urged the massive company to initiate more “concrete actions” to prioritize safety over efficiency. This push from the senators came after reports showed injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers were “alarmingly high.” Generally speaking, a business in the warehousing industry experienced in 2018, on average, four serious injuries per 100 full-time workers. Amazon’s full-time rate was almost two-and-a-half times that, at 9.6 per 100, according to one report. Another report pegged that number even higher, at 11 per 100.

In some Amazon facilities, the numbers are even more startling. According to revealnews.org, 10 of Amazon’s warehouses logged injury rates that were roughly triple the industry average… or worse. They ranged from the Fresno, Cal. facility (at 11.9 per 100) to a warehouse just outside Portland, Ore. where the injury rates were a stunning 25.9 per 100.

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Before the recent pandemic, Amazon had come under fire for various workplace safety incidents, including one in Joliet, Illinois, involving allegations that the company delayed emergency medical treatment for a worker who suffered a heart attack and died in early 2017. In fact, a lawsuit claims that workers waited 25 minutes before calling 911. Since the fire station was only a half-mile away, it is apparent that the delay probably led to the worker’s death. What makes the allegations against Amazon even more concerning is that no AED (Automated External Defibrillator) was provided because the AED boxes did not actually have the devices inside of them. When the Joliet Fire Department arrived, the EMTs were slowed down by security and were forced to go through the much of the 1,500,000 square foot warehouse facility before reaching the injured worker, which caused him to lose precious time to save his life. Later in 2017, an Amazon forklift operator was crushed and killed at the Plainfield, Indiana fulfillment center. Regulators found out that Amazon did not provide their worker with any safety training. In fact, safety issues at Amazon were dismissed and covered up. It comes as no surprise that the state authorities issued $28,000.00 in fines. 6 other similar incidents took place between November 2018 and September 2019 at the company’s various locations across the U.S., making many people wonder if Amazon is willing to sacrifice human life for the sake of more profits.

In 2018, the Monee warehouse reported 235 injuries. The rate of injury was 2.3 times higher than the industry average. Many people in Will County are concerned about the level of safety at the five fulfillment centers located in their community, especially now with the threat of Covid-19 surrounding their loved ones as they work to supply area families with the necessities of life during this difficult time. Most people have questioned the safety of Amazon workers without masks in the local facilities, but that may change. In announcing daily temperature checks of workers and the supplying of masks, Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, said via written statement”Whether it’s fulfilling orders in one of our fulfillment centers, delivering an order to a customer’s doorstep, or one of the many roles in between, I couldn’t be more proud of the critical role our teams are serving by enabling people to stay safe at home while receiving the products they need.” While these steps are certain to prevent further Amazon workers from contracting Coronavirus, time will tell if it is enough. Since Amazon already hired 80,000 of the 100,000 additional workers they need, it isn’t hard to imagine that Amazon sees its workers as easily replaceable until more drones and robots can be used to cut down on costs.

Based on Amazon’s conduct, Katz Friedman is investigating work injury cases on behalf of many distribution, warehouse, logistics, and fulfillment center workers in Monee, Joliet, Plainfield, Crest Hill, Romeoville, Waukegan, Aurora, Edwardsville, and Chicago, Illinois. We are also investigating Amazon related to its practices involving Amazon Flex delivery drivers who get hurt on the job but are unfairly denied workers compensation benefits. When making decisions regarding a work injury involving Amazon, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because Amazon has been prepared to fight its injured workers for a very long time. If you or someone you know works for Amazon and has suffered injury due their job at Amazon, the attorneys and staff at Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.

The “gig economy” is where more and more people are finding work. This allows for greater flexibility for workers who do not want to be tied to one job or who have to balance earning a living with family obligations. However, this allows employers to avoid providing benefits such as health insurance and allows companies to deny that they are even an employer.

This has serious consequences when people get hurt. If you drive your own vehicle to deliver packages for Amazon Flex or to carry passengers for Uber or Lyft, they will deny that you are an employee when you get injured. They will refuse to pay the benefits to which you are entitled under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Benefits are paid to employees but not independent contractors. Companies will claim that gig workers are not employees but are independent contractors.

The Courts have found drivers for a pizzeria and for licensed taxi companies are employees. There are no decisions regarding drivers for gig economy companies such as Amazon, Uber or Lyft yet. Gig economy companies say that all workers are paid by 1099. This is only one factor in determining whether somebody is an employee.

According to an Amazon spokesperson, an worker at Joliet’s Amazon fulfillment center has recently tested positive for the novel Coronavirus (SARS – CoV2). It is understood that the employee last worked on March 18 and is in quarantine. The worker’s identity remains confidential. There is no information yet on the health and safety of co-workers. Apparently, the announcement of this case was made on a Facebook group page for local employees. Clearly, during Amazon’s recent rise in business, there are no plans to close the facility. However, this may change if another worker tests positive. This is just one of many similar cases across the United States with no end in sight to the high risk of exposure. It comes as no surprise the New York area Amazon employees are expected to strike to gain basic safety protections at their jobs against the Coronavirus even if Amazon keeps raising their pay as they have been doing over the past month.

It is doubtful that Amazon will be able to slow the spread of sickness at its warehouses. Although Amazon may be doing some deep-cleaning in its Joliet facility, the company is claiming that they are also using social distancing despite the cramped proximity in which these employees must work as demand makes Amazon orders skyrocket and the need for more workers to be present to complete those orders. For example, Amazon is using boards to write messages instead of having meetings and spreading out chairs in break rooms. When employees actually find the time to take a break, their breaks are being staggered. Even though sick employees are being told to stay home and seek medical attention, workers can have no symptoms for several days but be contagious to all people in proximity.

Amazon claims they are supporting their sick and injured employee in Joliet, following guidelines, and taking extreme measures ensure the safety of employees in Joliet. It is still widely anticipated that Amazon expects business to carry on as usual with both its warehouse workers and its Amazon Flex drivers. In fact, Amazon has begun working with Lyft to use inactive drivers to deliver for Amazon. While this is certain to provide some much needed cash to Lyft drivers, it will most certainly not provide Lyft drivers with any workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured on the job. This is because Lyft drivers are not considered employees by Lyft just like Amazon Flex drivers are not considered employees by Amazon.com, Inc. Unlike Amazon Flex and Lyft drivers, Amazon fulfillment or warehouse workers are considered employees of Amazon.com, Inc. This means that Amazon will fight each and every claim that a Lyft or Amazon Flex driver makes for work comp benefits.

AMAZON-300x197Jeff Bezos can probably take credit for changing the way people shop online more than any single person. While the road to Amazon’s dominance as a retailer certainly has been fueled by a spark of ingenuity, that same road has also been filled with many strategies designed to protect the company to the detriment of its work force. While news stories have focused on Amazon fulfillment worker injuries at its numerous warehouses across the country, many Chicago area Amazon workers face other challenges. This is especially true as Amazon uses a strategy that involves treating its Flex drivers as 1099’s or independent contractors even though they are under the direction and control by Amazon.com, Inc. as to how they are required to do their jobs. For instance, Amazon uses GPS to tell the drivers where to go after the packages are picked up. Amazon has the right to control how many blocks a driver gets, which means that sometimes a driver will not get consistent work.

Many Amazon delivery drivers may be surprised to learn that Amazon.com, Inc. does not consider them to be employees. That means that Amazon Flex drivers will be told by Amazon’s lawyers that they do not have workers’ compensation benefits when they sustain a work injury. Amazon operates very much like Uber and Lyft as part of the gig economy that uses a strategy of evading the existing laws that are designed to protect workers when they are hurt on the job. This probably is not a surprise because it is a way of saving money and passing the buck to society both by not paying for work comp insurance and by pushing the costs onto local, state, and federal governments. They also operate like many delivery companies in that they tell their drivers that they are their own boss yet control they way they do their jobs from start to finish by using an app. For example, Amazon drivers must operate under a “Block.” This means that a driver must deliver a certain amount of packages in a set time based on what the company thinks that a driver should be able to accomplish. A driver is paid the same whether they complete this block in the allotted time or not.

Certainly, Amazon Flex drivers are at a higher risk of harm than most people because they are driving through many urban and suburban areas, parking, walking to doorsteps, and doing all of this through ice, snow, sleet, and rain, especially in Illinois. It comes as no surprise that Amazon delivery drivers sustain work injuries not only in major vehicle accidents, but also in slip and fall and trip and fall accidents. In the recent weeks, there have been many concerns voiced about Amazon drivers becoming infected with the Coronavirus and developing Covid-19 illness. According a a recent Seattle Times article, Amazon is telling drivers to knock with their phones, don’t sneeze on packages, and to have customers step away from their ID’s left on the ground to avoid spreading the virus. https://www.seattletimes.com/business/amazon/amazon-gives-delivery-drivers-detailed-guidance-for-working-amid-coronavirus/ Considering the recent surge in orders and Amazon increasing the hourly rate for Flex drivers, not only will there be an increase in the number of Amazon workers hurt at work and left in the cold from car crashes, but there will probably be a surge in the number of workers who fall ill with Covid-19 who are easily and rapidly replaced by Amazon. In fact, the way that Amzaon treats its workers is very close to treating them like robots. It is expected that Amazon will proceed this way until they can replace their drivers with automated vehicles and drones. Despite what Amazon’s lawyers say, Flex drivers are covered under Illinois Workers’ Compensation law.

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Looking down and over racks of products stored in boxes in a distribution warehouse.

Meanwhile, Amazon is looking to hire some 350,000 new workers to deal with the backlog of orders and has slowed down delivery in the COVID-19 era.

Click here to read the full article from USA TODAY.

For every 100 workers at Amazon facilities, nearly 11 were injured on the job in 2018, making it three times as dangerous as employment across the private sector, and twice as dangerous as warehouse work in general, according to the study from a coalition of more than 40 groups, including the National Employment Law Center and United for Respect.

Based on logs from 28 Amazon facilities in 16 states, the study found….click here to read the full article via CBS News

Editor’s note: The original article appeared in the Atlantic technology section on June 25, 2018.

I’m sure I looked comical as I staggered down a downtown San Francisco street on a recent weekday, arms full of packages—as I dropped one and bent down to pick it up, another fell, and as I tried to rein that one in, another toppled.

Yet it wasn’t funny, not really. There I was, wearing a bright-yellow safety vest and working for Amazon Flex, a program in which the e-commerce giant pays regular people to deliver packages from their own vehicles for $18 to $25 an hour, before expenses. I was racing to make the deliveries before I got a ticket—there are few places for drivers without commercial vehicles to park in downtown San Francisco during the day—and also battling a growing rage as I lugged parcels to offices of tech companies that offered free food and impressive salaries to their employees, who seemed to spend their days ordering stuff online. Technology was allowing these people a good life, but it was just making me stressed and cranky.

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