Taking too long? Close loading screen.
Connect with us

World

Pregnant Amazon Employees Speak Out About Nightmare at Oklahoma Warehouse

Published

on

An Amazon Fulfillment Center in Oklahoma City is ignoring doctor’s notes requesting lighter job assignments for pregnant warehouse workers by taking weeks—sometimes months—to accommodate workers’ needs, forcing them to choose between risking miscarriages or forgoing pay, according to documentation provided by four warehouse workers at the facility, known as OKC1.

In March, Michelle Posey, an OKC1 warehouse worker, started developing what she thought were Coronavirus symptoms. After taking a COVID-19 test that came back negative, she learned the fatigue and vomiting were early symptoms of pregnancy.

OKC1, which neighbors city’s airport and a Walmart Supercenter, is the largest Amazon facility in the state of Oklahoma and was one the first Amazon warehouses in the country to report a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year.

At the time, Posey was working at OKC1 as a stower—her job was to stand on her feet for 10-hour shifts, while scanning and lifting an endless stream of boxes of up to 60 pounds onto merchandise racks. Posey has epilepsy, which puts her at high risk for miscarriage and premature labor, so she took a personal leave of absence in March. When Amazon called her back to work in June, her doctor wrote up what’s known as a “modified duty letter,” informing Amazon that she should not lift, push or pull packages above 15 pounds, according to a document reviewed by Motherboard.

On June 11, Amazon denied the request: “Site cannot accommodate. There are no available paths/positions at site that meet listed restrictions due to reduced capacity though Social Distancing,” according to the job accommodation report reviewed by Motherboard.

Posey returned to work, and Amazon asked her to do the same work she was doing before she was pregnant, saying that no other positions were available. “One supervisor threatened me, saying ‘if you can’t do your job, why don’t you leave?'” she said.

Modified duty orders are temporarily adjusted work assignments given to injured or pregnant workers to accommodate any physical limitations determined by a doctor. Under federal and state laws, employers often are not obligated to provide these adjustments, but they have an incentive to provide workers who are injured on the job with modified duty accommodations: temporarily modifying a worker’s job is cheaper than paying them workers compensation benefits or paying out damages from a lawsuit if the person is badly injured. The incentives for accommodating pregnant workers are less strong. In a 2015 Supreme Court case involving a pregnant UPS worker who was denied a modified duty accommodation, the court did not come down definitively on either side.

In addition to Posey, three pregnant warehouse workers with modified duty orders who currently or recently worked at the Oklahoma City warehouse shared similar stories with Motherboard, saying the company did not accommodate them for weeks when their doctors provided modified duty letters, forcing them to choose between forgoing income to stay home from work or put themselves at risk of miscarriages and other pregnancy complications by continuing to work. The warehouse workers described a lack of clear communication between the warehouse’s internal human resources team and Amazon’s Employee Resource Center, which handles HR concerns for Amazon employees around the world, as well as case managers who took days to return calls, or failed to return them altogether. In some cases, Amazon refused to follow restrictions even after workers had been moved to new departments.

An Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard that the company’s accommodations process usually takes 7 days, and that once accommodations are in place the facilities honor them.

“We partner with each associate on an individual basis to accommodate their needs,” Leah Seay, the Amazon spokesperson said. “We take this matter seriously and it’s important to us that our associates feel safe and supported. If we find any occurrence where this has not been the case, then we will make it right.”

In June, Posey took another unpaid personal leave of absence in order to avoid complications with her pregnancy and in July, an Amazon representative contacted her and asked her to tell her gynecologist to lift her restrictions. Her doctor, she says, declined the request.

“I haven’t been paid nothing since June,” she told Motherboard in mid-September. “I’m on a leave of absence but my bills aren’t stopping. I’ve lost my house twice since I became pregnant. I couldn’t make rent. Because of Amazon’s lagging and the accommodations team’s failure to do their job, it’s fallen back on me.”

In late September, roughly five months after she initially got a modified duty order, Amazon finally accommodated her, moving her to a role placing bubble-wrap envelopes on a moving conveyor belt for 8 hour shifts. It also paid her back wages of roughly $500 for the period between June and September.


Pregnancy discrimination—including the denial of promotions and wage increases and the violation of paid leave laws—is rampant in the United States. But for pregnant workers in physically strenuous jobs, such as warehouse work, the stakes are particularly high. They can face miscarriages, early pregnancies, stillborn births, and significant risks to their own health.

Often a company’s refusal to accommodate pregnant workers is entirely legal. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant mothers may have the legal right to request work adjustments that allows them do to their job without risking their health and safety, but it is not guaranteed, and often companies do not have to adjust workers’ duties, even when doctors send notes requesting modifications and companies have open positions with lighter duty. The law, which was passed in 1978, only requires that companies comply with pregnant mothers’ requests if it has already accommodated other workers who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

At least 23 states, including California, Illinois, and New York, have passed laws that grant employees the right to pregnancy accommodations at work. The details vary from state to state but generally mandate that companies accommodate pregnant workers unless they can prove such accommodations place an undue financial burden on them. The state of Oklahoma does not have a pregnancy accommodation law.

A second pregnant Amazon warehouse who worked at the same Oklahoma facility in several strenuous roles until September visited the emergency room twice for heavy vaginal bleeding and blood clots before Amazon agreed to move her to lighter duty, according to documents reviewed by Motherboard. It took Amazon at least 16 days to approve the accommodation that the worker filed after her first visit to the emergency room, which included a 20 pound weight limit on pushing, pulling, and lifting, and a ten minute break every two hours, according to documentation reviewed by Motherboard.

Motherboard agreed to grant the worker and two others anonymity because they feared retaliation from Amazon.

“I feel like they need to get these accommodations done immediately like the next day, or they should let the team leads know that we can’t do certain tasks while the accommodation is being processed,” she said. “I wish I could reach out to Jeff Bezos to tell him that. The conditions that pregnant women are under make us choose between risking our baby or not getting paid and losing everything. If they were able to accommodate us during this process, we could still be on payroll and not have to give up our pay.”

Amazon moved the worker to a new position stacking totes from a conveyor belt 16 days after she filed her request. The new role was considered lighter duty, but the worker said she had to constantly remind her supervisors about her breaks, and consistently pushed over 60 pounds of totes across her work station.

“After a while, I was having issues, my back problems flared up,” she told Motherboard. “The stuff was heavy as hell, at least 35 to 50 pounds for 10 hours on my feet. It was a sharp, throbbing pain in the lower right side of my back. I was limping. It was like ‘Man something’s not right, maybe I don’t need to be pushing these totes.'”

When she complained, Amazon told her she needed to put a request in for a new pregnancy accommodation. Days later, her new accommodation was approved, but she had already quit, not wanting to risk a miscarriage.

“I’ve always been an active person, but I’m still having back problems. When I walk, I have a limp,” the worker who is in her twenties told me, shortly after she quit.

Another Amazon pregnant worker at OKC1 provided documentation showing that Amazon took roughly six weeks to adhere to pregnancy accommodations requested by her doctor. The modified duty order included an eight-hour workday among other physical limitations.

“I went to HR and my case manager, but it was impossible to get ahold of her. I called at least five times to ask about my accommodations. Eventually, they moved me to the ‘social distancing team,’ but before then, I lost my car, was close to losing my apartment, and received cut off notices from utility companies,” she told Motherboard.

During that period, the worker took a personal leave of absence, but Amazon still sent her notifications that it was docking her attendance points. If Amazon workers are docked enough points from their unpaid time off balance, Amazon makes it known that workers can be fired. “You have gone negative into your Unpaid Time (UPT) balance,” Amazon emailed her during the period she was waiting on the company to move to her a different position, according to documentation seen by Motherboard. “As a reminder, a negative UPT balance or exceeding the point threshold is considered a violation of our attendance policy, which can potentially lead to termination.” The worker said Amazon eventually corrected her attendance points.

Eventually, Amazon moved the worker from a strenuous role to lighter duty. Still, she says she continues to accrue points for working eight-hour shifts instead of ten-hour shifts, even though Amazon already approved her eight-hour accommodation. Motherboard reviewed documentation where an Amazon HR representative, telling her that her 8-hour accommodation had not been approved, more than three weeks after it had been approved.


Amazon has a well-documented record of firing pregnant warehouse workers who request accommodations. At least seven pregnancy discrimination lawsuits were filed against the company between 2011 and 2019, where workers alleged that the company had failed to accommodate their needs, such as longer and more frequent bathroom breaks and fewer continuous hours on their feet, and then fired them. Six of those cases were settled outside of court. In 2018, Amazon warehouse workers in Phoenix said in a letter to Jeff Bezos that pregnant workers received final warnings for “time off task” during bathroom breaks. “You are literally damaging the developing child with the stress you put on mothers,” they wrote. Motherboard spoke to Amazon warehouse organizers Queens, New York and Rialto, California who said Amazon has failed to honor pregnancy accommodations at their facilities.

These stories add to the widespread evidence that Amazon, in order to maintain its on-demand shipping empire, in particular two-day delivery to its Prime customers, can push workers to their physical limits.  As has been documented extensively, Amazon warehouse workers have suffered workplace injuries at rates above the industry average.

According to guidelines published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for doctors, women who do heavy lifting in their jobs face “a slight to modest increased risk of miscarriage.” For pregnant workers in physically demanding jobs whose pregnancies are classified as high risk, the potential for miscarriage is even higher.

Researchers hypothesize that extensive bending and lifting diverts blood flow from the uterus and high intensity work can push blood from the uterus to the muscles, which could trigger a miscarriage.

“Amazon doesn’t care about employees,” said Posey. “They don’t care whose life they put at risk or anything like that. It doesn’t matter if they’re pregnant or disabled. They only care about making money to take care of Jeff Bezos.”


A fourth woman at the Oklahoma Amazon Fulfillment Center told Motherboard she informed Amazon immediately when she learned she was pregnant earlier this summer. After her doctor sent an accommodations note to Amazon, requesting she receive a ten minute break every hour to sit and to avoid lifting over 20 pounds, it took Amazon more than five weeks to move her to lighter duty, according to emails reviewed by Motherboard.

During that time, she says she was reprimanded by her supervisor for “time off task” she spent in the bathroom dealing with bouts of nausea. (Amazon’s tracks workers’ time off task, abbreviated as “TOT,” by monitoring how frequently they scan packages and workers can be fired if workers are away from workstations for too long.) Frustrated, and scared of losing her job, she reached out to Amazon’s global human resources office, known as the Employee Resource Center. A representative informed her she could do nothing besides wait for her warehouse’s in-house human resources team to approve her request.

Do you work for Amazon and have a tip to share with us? We’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with the writer at lauren.gurley@vice.com or on Signal 201-897-2109.

“They treat us like nothing,” she said. “Me and other pregnant women want to start a petition because I feel like they count us like bodies instead of people. They’re quick to fire you for whatever reason, and you could be going through whatever. They never ask you what’s really going on. I don’t feel secure or appreciated.”

Although Amazon eventually relocated her to the “social distancing team,” handing out face masks and doing temperature checks on other workers, she says they still aren’t honoring accommodations the company explicitly already approved.

“They still don’t give me a ten minute break to sit. If I pull up a chair, my supervisor tells me ‘Amazon isn’t a sitting company,'” she said. “They don’t care. I would say they don’t even pretend like they care.”

Source

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

World

The War Over Mexico’s Beaches Is Done, For Now

Published

on

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Maria Chuc celebrated her twelfth birthday with her family by eating Burger King on the beach in the famed Mexican getaway of Playa del Carmen. Until recently, the local family usually only went to beaches that were farther away and not laced with hotels and restaurants, even though they lived in the seaside city.

But that changed last week when the Mexican federal government passed a law that guaranteed public access to beaches that landowners have long dubiously claimed are private.

“I think (the law) is good. Before you couldn’t walk around here and you couldn’t even get in,” said Maria’s father, Henry. “You definitely couldn’t come and spend time.”

Under the new law, the family was able to enjoy their burgers and fries while hiring a man with a guitar to sing a birthday ballad for Maria’s special day, without worrying that beachside businesses would run them off the sand.

Prior to the recent change, it was common for hotels and restaurants across the country to hire guards and set up barriers to keep people off the beaches, which they wanted to reserve for their paying guests, much to the dismay of local residents.

The long-simmering issue of beach access rights boiled over in Playa del Carmen in February when two Mexican tourists were arrested and detained for allegedly sitting in a part of the beach that a restaurant claimed was private property.

But after a video of police forcibly removing the young couple went viral across Mexico, the incident reignited the long-standing national debate about general access to the country’s many beaches. Days later, the local government publicly apologized to the two lovers, and the federal secretary of tourism, Miguel Torruco Marqués, took to Twitter to clearly state that “in Mexico, the beaches are public.”

In the months that followed, the issue took on extra importance during the coronavirus pandemic because public beaches were closed in much of the country and the only people able to enjoy them without risk of penalty were tourists – usually foreign – who were staying at resorts with direct access.

In an effort to finally solve the issue, lawmakers began drafting the new law that officially passed on October 21. The legislation establishes large fines for hotels, restaurants, and other property owners who don’t comply with allowing public access to all stretches of the beach.

While Playa del Carmen and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula became the public face of the issue in 2020, the new law is now in effect across the nation.

Victor Sanchez, who sells ceviche along the Playa del Carmen beach, said he’s happy about the change. In his opinion, it’s better that the beaches aren’t perceived as private because it made them only accessible for tourists staying at the hotels, and not local residents.

“I see people enjoying (the beach) more,” said Sanchez since the law has passed. In his opinion, the beaches belong to “el mexicano, it’s for the people.”

Source

Continue Reading

World

The War Over Mexico’s Beaches Is Over, For Now

Published

on

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Maria Chuc celebrated her twelfth birthday with her family by eating Burger King on the beach in the famed Mexican getaway of Playa del Carmen. Until recently, the local family usually only went to beaches that were farther away and not laced with hotels and restaurants, even though they lived in the seaside city.

But that changed last week when the Mexican federal government passed a law that guaranteed public access to beaches that landowners have long dubiously claimed are private.

“I think (the law) is good. Before you couldn’t walk around here and you couldn’t even get in,” said Maria’s father, Henry. “You definitely couldn’t come and spend time.”

Under the new law, the family was able to enjoy their burgers and fries while hiring a man with a guitar to sing a birthday ballad for Maria’s special day, without worrying that beachside businesses would run them off the sand.

Prior to the recent change, it was common for hotels and restaurants across the country to hire guards and set up barriers to keep people off the beaches, which they wanted to reserve for their paying guests, much to the dismay of local residents.

The long-simmering issue of beach access rights boiled over in Playa del Carmen in February when two Mexican tourists were arrested and detained for allegedly sitting in a part of the beach that a restaurant claimed was private property.

But after a video of police forcibly removing the young couple went viral across Mexico, the incident reignited the long-standing national debate about general access to the country’s many beaches. Days later, the local government publicly apologized to the two lovers, and the federal secretary of tourism, Miguel Torruco Marqués, took to Twitter to clearly state that “in Mexico, the beaches are public.”

In the months that followed, the issue took on extra importance during the coronavirus pandemic because public beaches were closed in much of the country and the only people able to enjoy them without risk of penalty were tourists – usually foreign – who were staying at resorts with direct access.

In an effort to finally solve the issue, lawmakers began drafting the new law that officially passed on October 21. The legislation establishes large fines for hotels, restaurants, and other property owners who don’t comply with allowing public access to all stretches of the beach.

While Playa del Carmen and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula became the public face of the issue in 2020, the new law is now in effect across the nation.

Victor Sanchez, who sells ceviche along the Playa del Carmen beach, said he’s happy about the change. In his opinion, it’s better that the beaches aren’t perceived as private because it made them only accessible for tourists staying at the hotels, and not local residents.

“I see people enjoying (the beach) more,” said Sanchez since the law has passed. In his opinion, the beaches belong to “el mexicano, it’s for the people.”

Source

Continue Reading

World

The best (or worst) $20,000 I ever spent: The money to start a small business

Published

on

When people tell me they’re thinking about opening a small business, particularly in a goods-based industry like fashion, my first question is, “Do you have money?” I don’t mean having savings or good credit or the knowledge of how to take out a loan, although those things certainly help. I’m talking family money, access to friends who will think nothing of loaning you six figures interest-free: that kind of money.

People at parties — or, these days, in my inbox — don’t expect this question. They tend to not appreciate this question. It is, in fact, one of the more abrasive questions I am comfortable asking total strangers.

But people tend to only approach me, seeking advice, after learning that I once owned a lingerie boutique for a number of years. They want to know the trick, the secret sauce, how I opened a well-known business with no money and no experience when I was in my late 20s and how I did it for four years. They want affirmation that their idea is a good one, the one that will land them on 30 Under 30 lists, that will definitely make them money. They aren’t too interested in why my own business closed — they just see that I am relatively young, queer, and that I did it, and so, obviously, they can, too.

Still, if there’s one thing owning a small business taught me, it’s that just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

I started a business for the reason so many people do: I had an idea that I thought could make a difference. I wanted my work to have meaning — and, on the cusp of having to write my dissertation prospectus, I was no longer finding that meaning in my English PhD program. Committing an unknown number of years to the pursuit of a degree almost guaranteed to not result in a tenure-track position seemed untenable. I started to look elsewhere.

Bluestockings, my e-commerce lingerie boutique geared to the LGBTQ+ community, was an outlier. The store, solely focused on stocking ethically made goods from indie designers, including kink-friendly and gender-affirming underthings, was one of those late-night, drunk-on-the-porch ideas that, by all accounts, should have been forgotten the next morning, lost to the heady summer nights of Boston. That I ran with an idea I was not qualified for and had no resources for speaks to my desperation to get out of grad school by any means necessary, but it also speaks to the extent to which I, still very entrenched in academia, had bought into the idea that I should do what I loved.

In Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, Anne Helen Petersen articulates how the longstanding desire for “a well-paying job” has morphed into the cultural prestige of “a cool job,” which she calls a distinctly modern and bourgeois phenomenon. The cool job is “a means of elevating a certain type of labor to the point of desirability that workers will tolerate all forms of exploitation for the ‘honor’ of performing it.” The cool job is one that can be defined by that famous, and at this point excoriated, axiom: Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

When you “love” what you “do,” there is a slippage between the work and the self. When do you turn off? When do you stop working, if your work is your hobby, what you always want to be doing? Academia is the kind of industry that Petersen, herself an ex-academic, cites as thriving on this slippage. But so, too, is entrepreneurship — MLMs, for one, but also retail businesses, such as Bluestockings, that require an extraordinary amount of time, money, and effort, all with the reward of LinkedIn titles like “small business owner,” one of those great American archetypes that politicians of all stripes so love to cite on the campaign trail.

Personally, I had no money, and with my working-class background, I came from a family with no money. I was deeply in debt, already divorced, and financially illiterate, having made no attempts to learn how to manage my finances in my mid-20s. Like my other millennial grad student friends, all from various class backgrounds, I had the attitude of, “I’m already in so deep — what’s more debt?” But I was also part of that peripatetic but highly educated “creative class,” and I wanted to do work that aligned with my values, whatever that meant. While I would have been better off looking for temp work or even simply taking on more hours as a nanny, which had supplemented my income throughout graduate school, I instead took on more than $20,000 in debt through credit cards and loans to start a retail business, not fully understanding what I was committing to.

I spent a lot of money to start Bluestockings, ostensibly to do something I loved, to make a difference. In this, I’m not alone: How many millennials have driven ourselves deeper into debt in the pursuit of work that was our “passion”? How many folks have gone back to graduate school or taken out loans to move to a big city for job opportunities? Gone into credit card debt trying to keep up with the lifestyle the industry they worked in required of them? In some ways, my story is unique; in others, it is profoundly similar to many of my peers.

These days, my relationship to Bluestockings yo-yos between ambivalence and shock at my naivete and hardheadedness. I ran the store on the leanest budget possible for four years, never once taking a paycheck. I ultimately closed the store in 2018, unwilling to drive myself deeper into debt and also wanting to focus more on my writing.

But then, it would be dishonest to discuss the hardships without also naming the blessings: I met some of the best, most enduring friends of my life through the lingerie industry. Bluestockings is what got me onto Twitter, a platform that would become integral to meeting still more queers, writers, and creatives over the years. I learned more about running a business (mostly through mistakes) than I ever thought possible, lessons that would translate to every kind of work I would do in the future. It was ultimately Bluestockings — not academia — that opened up the doors for me to work at tech startups in New York, leading to marketing work that would pay my bills for years.

And then there is, of course, the people who Bluestockings did reach, the folks I’ve met in gay bars and at queer camp who told me they bought their first binder from my store, that the photo shoots and blog posts helped them learn to appreciate their bodies and aesthetics in a world saturated by the Victoria’s Secret cis-hetero norms. There is that.

As with so many things in life, it’s a mixed bag. I don’t know that I would recommend going into a significant amount of debt for the sake of doing what you love if you don’t also have a plan to get yourself out. It is debt that, thanks to a very recent, very generous book deal, I am going to be able to pay off very soon. The business debt and the accompanying credit card debt that paid for my living expenses during that time will be wiped out, a clean slate, clearing up a significant chunk of my monthly budget that I won’t have to spend on credit card interest masked as a “minimum.” Luck is what that is, sheer fucking luck, and I am dearly aware of it.

It’s hard to put a price tag on one of the most formative experiences of my life. Couching it in binary terms of “good” or “bad,” “best” or “worst” feels simplistic and disingenuous, both. The store, and my experience of small business ownership, is like an old relationship that started with the highest of hopes and ended with a mortgage for a house I don’t live in anymore but am still paying off. There are good memories, to be sure, but would I do it again?

What an impossible question.

Jeanna Kadlec is the author of the forthcoming memoir Heretic.


Help keep Vox free for all

Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.

Source

Continue Reading

Trending