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The Price of Amazon’s ‘Prime’ Business Model Is Our Bodies

The billion-dollar company profits off pushing workers like me to our physical limits — only to ignore us when we’re hurt on the job.
Amazon Protests outside potential headquarters HQ2 building in LIC New York. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Amazon is notorious for having one of highest injury rates in the warehouse industry.

What’s less well known is that Amazon will ignore, overcomplicate, or outright deny workers their right to disability accommodations, forcing them to perform physically impossible and excruciating work or risk giving up their income entirely.

I should know — it happened to me several times.

That’s why, alongside United for Respect, I’m demanding that Amazon abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act and reform its accommodations system to ensure that workers don’t have to sacrifice their health to keep their jobs.

I spend about 10 hours a day moving and sorting products that can weigh up to 49 pounds each. After four years of physically intense labor with minimal breaks, my shoulder finally gave out during one especially busy day last summer.

Like other workers who’d been injured before me, I was dissuaded from visiting my own doctor and encouraged to consult AmCare, Amazon’s on-site first aid clinic, instead. For a month, they gave me ice packs or heat treatments meant to help me endure the pain as I continued working through my injury.

But as the pain became unbearable, I escalated my case and consulted a doctor from the company’s list of approved providers.

I learned that I had damaged my rotator cuff. In order to fully recover, I was put on lifting restrictions with gradually increasing increments, from 5 to 20 pounds. The gradual increase was meant to help my healing process.

At first, I was allowed to return to work on light duty. But just a few weeks later, as we prepared for the holiday shopping season, Amazon expected me to go against my doctor’s orders. When I told management that I was physically unable, I was placed on indefinite leave and escorted out of the building.

During that time, I underwent surgery for my shoulder. When I was cleared to go back to work in February, again with restrictions on what I could lift, Amazon stonewalled me. Even as I sent in medical documentation proving my steady recovery, Amazon never answered whether I could continue working with my disability.

Instead, they kept extending my indefinite leave. With a mortgage to pay and a retirement to plan for, I was left with two bad options: Work my regular duty job or lose my house. With no other choice, I was back on the warehouse floor lifting 49 pounds for 40-60 hours a week.

Unsurprisingly, my injury is only getting worse.

Stories like mine are a part of a larger problem at Amazon, where workers are pushed to our physical limits only to be disregarded, ignored, and neglected by a billion-dollar company that makes its profits off our backs.

I know many co-workers who’ve been victims of Amazon’s careless, and at times illegal, accommodations practices. Some are military veterans who came to Amazon with physical disabilities only to be pressured to take on work that exacerbates their pain. Others have been terminated after trying to request accommodations for panic-inducing anxiety disorders.

These practices are unreasonable and inhumane. That’s why our worker-led campaign is sharing a petition calling on Amazon to implement immediate changes to the accommodations process. You can sign on in support at www.United4Respect.org/Campaigns.

No one should be kept in the dark about their employment when they have families to feed and roofs to keep over their heads. And no one should be discriminated against or harassed because of their disabilities.

The price of Amazon’s “prime” business model is our bodies and well-being. I’m speaking up with Amazon workers nationwide to say we won’t stand for it anymore.

This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

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Denise Kohr

Denise Kohr

Denise Kohr is a Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based Amazon associate and leader with the nonprofit workers rights organization United for Respect.

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