The Seattle Times reports that the US Department of Justice civil division is investigating "whether Amazon executives knew about safety hazards and misled others about the company’s safety record." Specifically, the story says, the DOJ wants to know whether Amazon's management “engaged in a fraudulent scheme designed to hide the true number of injuries” to its workers, and made "'false representations' to lenders about its safety record to obtain credit."
According to the story, "government officials have asked the company to produce copies of communications and other documents, and to make several executives available for depositions. Information gained in the investigation, the Justice Department says, could provide 'significant evidence' about the severity of ergonomic hazards at Amazon’s warehouses and 'Amazon’s longstanding knowledge of those hazards,' according to court documents."
The Times writes that "Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company disagrees with the allegations … Amazon has asked a district judge in Seattle to allow the company more time to gather the information the attorney’s office requested. Prosecutors originally asked for a Jan. 6 deadline. Amazon asked for a six-month extension."
Amazon also "said it has produced more than 46,200 documents - totaling nearly 190,000 pages - and 22 witnesses for depositions, according to a January court filing. Amazon also said it has 'mobilized' 100 attorneys and spent millions of dollars already."
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that "Amazon violated labor law in advance of unionization elections last year at two warehouses on Staten Island, a federal administrative judge has ruled.
"The judge, who hears cases for the National Labor Relations Board, ruled on Monday that Amazon supervisors had illegally threatened to withhold wage and benefit increases from employees at the warehouses if they voted to unionize. The judge, Benjamin W. Green, also ruled that Amazon had illegally removed posts on a digital message board from an employee inviting co-workers to sign a petition being circulated by the Amazon Labor Union. The union sought to represent workers at both warehouses.
"The ruling ordered Amazon to stop the unfair labor practices and to post a notice saying it would not engage in them … Amazon can appeal the ruling to the labor board in Washington."
- KC's View:
This is coming at a tough time for Amazon, since it is in the process of right-sizing the company through layoffs and streamlining. CNBC has a story detailing all the places where Amazon is making cuts, a list that includes Grocery and Physical stores, Zappos, Amazon Robotics, Amazon Web Services, Operations, Payments, Heath Care, Marketplace, Real Estate, and Prime Air - in order words, pretty much everywhere.
And now comes the federal government, saying that not only does Amazon operate facilities that often are less than safe, but also knew about it and adjusted the records so that things look better than they are. Those accusations are coming from the Justice Department and well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and while Amazon is going to try to delay any hearings, I don't think that's going to work for very long.
The losses in front of the NLRB don't help Amazon's case.
I'm not sure all the accusations are true, but certainly some of them seem credible. At the very least, Amazon is going to have to take them seriously - "fraudulent scheme" are fighting words - and deal with them in a transparent manner.