AOC, Sanders demand probe of Amazon's 'grueling, unsafe' workplace conditions

New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, along with a group of other lawmakers, are demanding that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigate the workplace conditions of Amazon.

"The working conditions at this highly profitable company have been described as 'unsafe,' 'bruising,' 'grueling,' 'a recipe for disaster,' putting 'workers and communities at risk' and 'intrusive,'" the lawmakers' letter states, before citing the recent stoppage organized by Amazon warehouse workers at a facility in Minneapolis, Minn., meant to protest unfair, unsafe practices.

The letter, which was also signed by Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, who addressed protesting workers and activists outside the Minneapolis facility in December, states: "This work environment creates a high risk of physical injuries, a risk increased by Amazon's intentional disregard for the health and safety of their employees."

Amazon downplayed the allegations and questioned timing of the letter.

“It was obvious to the 1,500-full-time workforce that an outside organization used Prime Day to raise its own visibility, conjured misinformation and a few associate voices to work in their favor, and relied on political rhetoric to fuel media attention,” a spokesperson for Amazon told Gizmodo.

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“If Rep. Omar and Sen Sanders really want to help the American worker, they should focus on passing legislation that raises the federal minimum wage —$7.25 is too low,” the spokesperson added. “As for the letter, we welcome OSHA to visit our facilities, just as we offer public tours to any member of the public. They will see that we offer a safe workplace with industry leading pay starting at $15/hr, benefits, and education opportunities.”

Sanders is one of several Democrats running for the 2020 presidential nomination advocating increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour. A recent search of OSHA's violations database shows more than 150 results for probes into Amazon's facilities, including at least 29 that found violations — such as at this New Jersey fulfillment center.

"Hundreds of stories shared with our offices paint a picture of desperation and a corporate employer with little regard for the health of its employees," the letter states, adding that workers complained of high temperatures at some locations and not being allowed to take water or bathroom breaks. "We heard from an Amazon worker who described the warehouse as a '21st century sweatshop.'"

Besides the push by U.S. lawmakers to investigate working conditions and probe potential antitrust violations, Amazon is facing a backlash overseas.

The European Union announced on Wednesday that it will launch an antitrust probe into whether the tech giant is misusing its dual role as a marketplace for independent sellers and a purveyor of its own retail products.

"European consumers are increasingly shopping online. E-commerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices," said Margrethe Vestager, EU commissioner in charge of competition policy, in a statement. "We need to ensure that large online platforms don't eliminate these benefits through anti-competitive behaviour."

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