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Amazon pushes back against accusations its warehouses harm the communities that house them

Evie Fordham

Amazon has long touted the hundreds of thousands of jobs it's created, but recent research and the launch of Athena, a coalition dedicated to stopping "Amazon's growing, powerful grip over our society and economy," are calling into question its impact on communities where the corporation builds its warehouses.

Athena's Tuesday launch came amid revelations that injury rates at Amazon's fulfillment center on Staten Island, New York, are more than triple the average for the industry.

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An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to FOX Business it is "inaccurate to say that Amazon fulfillment centers are unsafe and efforts to paint our workplace as such based solely on the number of injury recordings is misleading given the size of our workforce."

The spokesperson also attributed the high rate of injuries to the "under-recording of safety incidents across the industry."

Meanwhile, groups like Economic Roundtable and the Economic Policy Institute have issued reports claiming that the jobs that Amazon brings when it builds a warehouse do not, on balance, benefit the community.

Economic Roundtable's report, which came out this month, was underwritten by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, a coalition of unions representing about 800,000 workers

"Amazon's trucks cause extensive uncompensated damage to public roads and Amazon's warehouse jobs pay so little that workers can't afford adequate housing and rely on public assistance," Economic Roundtable authors Daniel Flaming and Patrick Burns wrote. "The substandard housing conditions of Amazon's warehouse workers and their inability to afford food or healthcare for their families weaken the economies of cities."

EPI's 2018 report claims that counties where Amazon opens warehouses get "no new net jobs overall, as the jobs created in warehousing and storage are likely offset by job losses in other industries."

Amazon pushed back against this narrative, touting its $15 minimum starting wage, comprehensive health care coverage and five months of maternity leave.

"Self-interested critics, particularly unions and groups funded by our competitors, have a vested interest in spreading misinformation about Amazon but the facts tell a different story," an Amazon spokesperson told FOX Business. "Amazon has invested more than $270 billion in the United States since 2011 and created more than 400,000 direct jobs in the U.S. and over 680,000 additional jobs in areas like construction, logistics, and other professional services."

Athena's launch highlights just how widespread Amazon is as it diversifies into entertainment, digital surveillance, cloud computing and more. The group is partially funded by billionaire George Soros' Open Society Foundations and wants to raise $15 million for its first three years, The New York Times reported.

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"This is a company functioning at a scale that was previously left to government. ... It has incredible impact," Tom Perriello of the Open Society Foundations told The Times. "Who could possibly shape its future and direction?"

The New York-based coalition includes groups from all over the world like Fight for the Future, Warehouse Workers for Justice and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, where Athena's director, Dania Rajendra, is on the board of directors.

"We're learning from what makes Amazon back down, and looking to replicate that as much as possible with as many people as possible," Rajendra told The Times.

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Amazon accused its critics of "conjuring misinformation."

"It's no coincidence to us that this group would emerge now because large shopping events have become an opportunity for our critics, including unions, to raise awareness for their cause – in this case, increased membership dues. These groups are conjuring misinformation to work in their favor, when in fact we already offer the things they claim to be able to provide," an Amazon spokesperson told FOX Business in a statement.

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FOX Business' Stephanie Pagones contributed to this report.

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