Amazon warehouses under investigation from federal prosecutors, Department of Labor

(NEW YORK) — Federal prosecutors in New York and the Department of Labor are inspecting Amazon warehouses around the country as part of a civil investigation into unsafe and unseemly workplace conditions.

The inspections began Monday morning, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

“This morning, the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration entered Amazon warehouses outside New York City, Chicago and Orlando to conduct workplace safety inspections in response to referrals received from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York concerning potential workplace hazards related, among other things, to Amazon’s required pace of work for its warehouse employees,” a spokesman for the office, Nicholas Biase, said in a statement provided to ABC News.

“The Civil Division of the SDNY is investigating potential worker safety hazards at Amazon warehouses across the country, as well as possible fraudulent conduct designed to hide injuries from OSHA and others,” Biase added.

A U.S. Department of Labor spokesperson told ABC News: “OSHA received referrals from the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York regarding allegations of safety and health violations at several Amazon facilities. We routinely receive referrals from various federal agencies, law enforcement, advocacy groups and others.”

“Acting on the referrals, OSHA has opened inspections at Amazon workplaces in New York, Illinois and Florida. Because these are active investigations, we are unable to provide more information at this time,” the spokesperson added.

Workers at Amazon warehouses, which the company calls fulfillment centers, have complained of a grueling pace, uncomfortable heat and the potential for injury.

Amazon responded to the investigation, with a spokesperson telling ABC News in a statement: “We’ll of course cooperate with OSHA in their investigation, and we believe it will ultimately show that these concerns are unfounded.”

In recent years, Amazon has also confronted a lawsuit by New York State Attorney General Letitia James that alleged the company failed to protect workers from COVID-19.

Drivers have said the demand to meet quotas caused them to skip bathroom breaks and urinate in plastic bottles, a practice first reported in a 2018 book, “Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain,” by James Bloodworth.

After first denying the claim, Amazon wrote in a 2021 blog post, “We know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes, and this has been especially the case during COVID when many public restrooms have been closed.”

The complaints led some Amazon employees to seek to unionize, with mixed results.

The U.S. Attorney’s office pointed members of the public who want to report workplace safety and injury-related issues at Amazon warehouses to the Justice Department’s website.

Current and former Amazon warehouse workers who have information about safety issues — including safety issues related to the pace of work — or a failure to report injuries, or who were injured and did not receive adequate care at Amazon’s onsite first-aid center or at a clinic recommended by Amazon, were urged to share that information with the SDNY.

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