‘It’s been hell’: injured Amazon workers turn to GoFundMe to pay bills | Amazon

Amazon workers left unable to work by injuries on the job have resorted to online fundraising campaigns to pay their bills as they fight for compensation and disability benefits.

Three current employees, injured while working in the technology giant’s warehouses, described a “bureaucratic, terrible process” while they sought financial support. One was rendered homeless.

During interviews with the Guardian, they alleged the company ignored workers’ concerns over the strains of warehouse work, denied requests for compensation or benefits after injuries, and put productivity above all else.

In response, Amazon acknowledged it had found a “few” problems, but claimed the workers had provided “a lot of inaccurate information”. The company did not specify which parts of the accounts it deemed inaccurate.

Amazon – one of the world’s largest employers, with 1.5 million staff across the world – has long faced criticism over the working and safety conditions inside its warehouses. It has repeatedly pushed back, claiming that the company was “working toward being best in class” on safety as part of its declared intent to create “Earth’s safest place to work”.

Over the years, however, numerous workers have come forward with troubling stories of injuries incurred on the job; being sent back to work by Amazon’s on-site medical care unit, Amcare; and long fights and delays in trying to obtain workers compensation, medical care, accommodations and disability benefits in the months and years that followed.

‘This is why we’re homeless’

In August 2023, Keith Williams was loading containers by himself off a trailer on the shipping dock at Amazon’s SWF1 warehouse in Rock Tavern, New York. A computer desk fell onto him, hitting the back of his head.

Feeling nauseous and dizzy after being struck, Williams went to Amcare, where he was given aspirin and ice. He went to urgent care, because he said they didn’t know what to do for him at Amcare.

Returning to work the next day, Williams said he was placed on light duty, but kept getting bothered by managers asking what he was doing sitting around despite accommodations due to his injury. “They just sit you there in uncomfortable places, and you’re on display like a human zoo in the middle of the warehouse,” he recalled.

Keith Williams with his family.
Keith Williams with his family. Photograph: Courtesy Keith Williams

“That’s all they’re concerned about: how much you can make them, how much they can push out of you, how little they can give you, and how much they can get out of you.”

Just five months later, in February, Williams was injured on the job again after being tasked with repeatedly lifting heavy packages, without being rotated to less intense departments. When he tried to lift a package, all of a sudden he felt a shot of pain in his wrist and elbow, and couldn’t pick it up.

He went to Amcare, before heading to urgent care on his own accord after waiting for an hour at Amcare.

Out of work and injured, Williams has yet to receive disability benefits. “I’m battling with the workers compensation insurer, they give me the runaround a lot,” he said. “Because I hadn’t been there a full year when I got hurt in February, I wasn’t able to receive my full benefits, which is why we’re homeless – because we can’t afford housing.”

In April, Williams and his family were evicted from their home after a dispute with a landlord. Unable to raise the funds for a new rental, they were forced to move into a motel.

As Williams recovers from his repetitive motion injury, a GoFundMe campaign was started on his family’s behalf while they grappled with the the financial impact of his workplace injury.

“I have no grip strength,” he said. “I can’t carry things very long. Even a gallon of milk is tiring … My day to day life has been hit so hard, everything has an added measure of difficulty now.

“There’s just no thought, or no care to, what kind of strain gets put on the body, even though we would constantly say something about it.”

‘I’ve been through my savings, 401k and credit cards’

Two years after she began working as a picker and stower at Amazon’s STL8 warehouse outside of St Louis, Missouri, in August 2021, Christine Manno began experiencing severe carpal tunnel symptoms due to the repetitive motions inherent with her job. She had two surgeries, in the following October and December, and returned to full duty a few days after her second surgery.

Boxes in a warehouse
Amazon products at STL8 appeared to breach a height limit marked by an orange bar. Photograph: Courtesy Christine Manno

“Over the course of a 12-hour shift, I do three 12-hour shifts,” Manno said. “I could lift thousands of pounds over the course of the shift, and my hands were still visibly swollen, so my hands started to get worse.”

In May 2022, when reaching for a high box, she felt pains down her back, both arms, and down into her legs.

After her initial claim for disability benefits faced resistance, Manno retained an attorney. Eventually, her case was approved.

In January 2023, eight months after the injury, she went to see a spinal surgeon. “He agreed that it was during the course of my job that these injuries occurred,” Manno said. “Up to that point, I had had no type of treatment. They wouldn’t allow anything.”

Through the course of working while injured, Manno was able to work with restrictions. She began physical therapy, but said it didn’t help alleviate her pain.

During this time, while driving a turret truck in the Amazon warehouse, which doesn’t require lifting, Manno got dizzy and lightheaded, sostopped and informed her supervisor. She says she was told to sit down, but ordered 20 minutes later to go back to the truck and finish the job.

Amazon informed her in July 2023 they would no longer accommodate her restrictions, she says, despite a doctor recommending permanent restrictions. The doctor’s request for a referral to a pain management specialist, according to Manno, but Amazon denied that also.

With her short-term disability benefits exhausted, more recently she has struggled to persuade the firm to grant her long-term benefits.

After her medical issues and inability to work left her in financial straits, she started a GoFundMe while waiting on a decision regarding the benefits.

“They keep telling me they need more documentation, yet workers compensation won’t let me see a doctor to get more documentation, but I can’t get treatment because when they know it’s a work injury, they won’t authorize treatment through health insurance,” said Manno. “I’ve been through my savings, 401k and credit cards.

“I have multiple bill collectors calling 20, 30 times a day. It’s been hell, and all the stress directly affects my neck injury and I have severe sciatica and very limited use of my hands, I lose feeling and end up dropping things. My hands don’t function like they should.”

‘Safety is an afterthought’

Back at SWF1 in Rock Tavern, last August stower Nik Moran smashed his finger. He drove himself to the emergency room, where he got stitches for the injury.

“I went back to work right away,” because Amazon’s worker compensation unit “doesn’t pay you for the first week”, he said. “It’s just a bureaucratic, terrible process.”

Shortly after the injury, he obtained a workers’ compensation lawyer because he was aware of the issues coworkers have experienced in trying to get medical care covered and compensation for injuries on the job, and he noted Amazon has disputed covering his medical care for the injury.

“Amazon talks a big game about safety, but their main priority is productivity,” claimed Moran. “Safety is an afterthought.”

Contacted by the Guardian about the three workers’ accounts, Maureen Lynch Vogel, an Amazon spokesperson, said:Our employees’ safety and health is our top priority. While we usually don’t comment on employees’ individual circumstances, these individuals have unfortunately chosen to share a lot of inaccurate information.

“Each of these claims have been thoroughly investigated, and – in the few cases where we found issues – our team has worked to address their concerns and accommodate their needs as appropriate.”

Amazon did not respond to a request for clarification on which information it deemed inaccurate, and what issues were found and resolved.

‘Earth’s safest place to work’

Amazon, which pledged three years ago to become “Earth’s safest place to work”, also said it was taking steps to cut its workplace injury rate in half by 2025. But labor advocacy and worker safety groups claim its injury rates remain dangerously high.

The Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of trade unions, has annually released reports on Amazon’s injury rates for the past four years. Its latest report found Amazon’s injury rate for 2023 was 6.5 injuries per 100 workers. In 2020, the year before the company first announced plans to halve its injury rate, the SOC says it stood at 6.6 per 100 workers.

Amazon’s injury rates remain remain “very high”, argued David Rosenblatt, deputy director of strategic research and campaigns at the Strategic Organizing Center. “They have gone down barely at all, a couple percent over the last year.”

In a separate report, published last month, the National Employment Law Project claimed that Amazon’s injury rate for warehousing facilities was “more than 1.5 times” that of TJX Companies, the owner of TJ Maxx and TK Maxx, and almost triple that of Walmart.

Amazon denied the allegations in the reports. “These papers are full of misleading and false information, and are created by groups who refuse to accept that we’ve made real progress because doing so would undercut their agenda,” said Vogel, the spokesperson, who claimed its overall injury rate in the US had declined by 28%.

Williams, the SWF1 worker in New York, recently had some good news. After his online campaign raised thousands of dollars, his family had a rental application accepted. They hope to move into a new apartment next month.

“There were a lot of tears,” he told the Guardian. “It was a little bit of sunshine in a dark time.”

He is still fighting for disability benefits from Amazon. “The gap between how much this company makes, and how much it gives its workers, is way too, too high,” said Williams.