Amazon made its CEO is the wealthiest person in the world. So why can’t the company care for those injured while working there?
Michelle Quinones, 27, started working at a Fort Worth, Texas, Amazon Fulfillment Center in July 2017 as an order picker, where she spent long hours on overnight shifts in the Amazon warehouse meeting mandatory rates for filling orders.
A few months into the job, Quinones started having carpal tunnel symptoms. She was sent back to work at least ten times from her warehouse’s Amcare clinic, which are put in place to provide Amazon employees with on-site first aid.
By November 2017, Quinones’ carpal tunnel progressed to the point where her right wrist required surgery to repair damage to her tendons. But Amazon’s workers’ compensation insurer did not authorize surgery until February 2019, after more than a year of court battles.
Amazon’s rapid growth has turned its CEO Jeff Bezos into the wealthiest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of $148.7bn. Meanwhile, the company’s workers have long reported brutal working conditions in Amazon warehouses.
A Guardian investigation has revealed numerous cases where Amazon workers are left to suffer after sustaining workplace injuries, leaving them unable to work, deprived of income, and forced to fight for months to receive benefits and medical care.
“It’s been a long 17 months. I ended up losing everything. I lost my apartment. I had to move back home to New Jersey,” Quinones told the Guardian.
Shortly after her injury, Quinones explained Amazon’s leave of absence team told her she had to return to work as a picker in December 2017 against her doctor’s orders. Amazon didn’t offer a different assignment to accommodate her medical restrictions until December 2018, shortly before Quinones’ workers’ compensation court date against Amazon was scheduled.
In April 2017, Amazon’s workers’ compensation insurer, Sedgwick, even hired a private investigator who conducted surveillance on Quinones to try to disprove her injury claims. A Sedgwick document provided to the Guardian cited the company authorized an assignment requesting two days of surveillance on Quinones in February 2018 to “determine her activity level.”
Quinones is still recovering, unable to work, and had to drop out of classes at the University of Texas-Arlington.
An Amazon spokesperson told the Guardian: “We follow all Texas state workers’ compensation laws, and this case is no different. Michelle is no longer employed by Amazon but continues to have a case manager to help navigate ongoing discussions.”
Kim Wyatt, a workers’ compensation lawyer in Texas who represented Quinones, explained she has frequently represented Amazon workers who have experienced similar issues.
“A lot of the cases we see with Amazon are repetitive injury cases. Basically people are just a component to machine industry of mass production,” said Wyatt.