Friday, March 29, 2019
Walmart and Amazon are the Top Two Employers in the U.S. -- Good News for Injured Workers or More of the Re-Dangerous?
According to a new Wall Street 24/7 study, Walmart employs 1.5 million Americans, more than any other employer in the United States. Amazon comes in second at 400,000 employees. Walmart is the largest private sector employer in my home state of Wyoming and, curiously, is exempted from the state workers' compensation system. I note in passing that "Christie Walton, the daughter-in-law of Walmart founder Sam Walton, is a longtime Jackson resident. Her son Lukas Walton also calls Jackson Hole home and is an heir to the family fortune, with an estimated net worth approaching $16 billion." Wyoming is a de facto opt-out state for non-extrahazardous employers (as opportunistically defined by the Wyoming legislature) and, as local claimants' attorneys will attest, this is not good news for injured workers. If you are injured at work in a Walmart warehouse in Wyoming your remedy is limited to an ERISA governed "private" plan of the type that made national news a few years ago in Oklahoma. In short, you recover for a work injury what the company says you will recover (a sum with which you will fictively be said to have "agreed"), unmoored from the state workers' compensation benefit floor. My narrow state concerns aside, Walmart as lead employer brings me little comfort considering the matter from a national perspective.
As for Amazon, consider this excerpt from a December 2018 piece in EHS Today:
Amazon workers suffer injuries – and sometimes lose their lives – in a work environment with a relentless demand to fill orders and close monitoring of employee actions,” National COSH stated.
Since 2013, the following seven workers were killed in Amazon warehouses:
- Jeff Lockhart, 29, a temporary employee, found collapsed and dead from a cardiac event after an overnight shift at an Amazon warehouse in Chester, VA on Jan. 19, 2013.
- Roland Smith, 57, a temporary employee, was killed after being dragged and crushed by a conveyor belt at an Amazon warehouse in Avenel, N.J. on Dec. 4, 2013. OSHA cited five companies for serious violations, including the contractor responsible for operating the facility for Amazon – Genco – and four temporary staffing agencies.
- Jody Rhoads, 52, was crushed and pinned to death by a pallet loader at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pa., on June 1, 2014. (This is the same facility where Shoemaker was killed in September 2017).
- A worker for a company from whom Amazon was renting forklifts was crushed to death by one at an Amazon warehouse in Fernley, Nev., on Nov. 4, 2014. According to news reports, he was loading the forklift onto a flatbed truck when it began to roll forward. He tried to stop it but the forklift fell on him.
- Devan Michael Shoemaker, age 28, was killed on Sept. 19, 2017 when he was run over by a truck at an Amazon warehouse in Carlisle, Pa.
- Phillip Terry, 59, was killed on Sept. 24, 2017, when his head was crushed by a forklift at an Amazon warehouse in Plainfield, Ind.
- Four weeks later, on October 23, Karla Kay Arnold, 50, died from multiple injuries after she was hit by a sports utility vehicle in the parking lot of an Amazon warehouse in Monee, Ill.
I want to repeat some commentary from my blog entry of March 26, 2017 in response to the argument that work is becoming safer. In short, I argued that although work was becoming safer, it could easily become dangerous again, or "re-dangerous.":
Leaving all that to one side, however, I wanted to say a word about the predictive power of injury models generally. President Trump’s proposed budget calls for a cut of $2.5 billion at the Department of Labor. One need not be a soothsayer to understand that OSHA, SSI, and Medicaid (among other programs) are on the verge of being pared down to virtual non-existence. I am similarly unenthusiastic concerning all federal programs dealing with workplace safety. Let us speak plainly. American manufacturing left the country to avoid regulation and unionized labor costs. As private sector union density approaches 6%, and safety regulations evaporate, it is not so hard to imagine an American workplace that is “re-dangerous.” Cars were no doubt being made dangerously in China, and if their manufacture is re-shored I should not be surprised to rediscover dangerous conditions. No doubt, robots and the like may improve the situation. But as last Friday’s Bloomberg piece—Inside Alabama’s Auto Jobs Boom: Cheap Wages, Little Training, Crushed Limbs—made abundantly clear, models of future injury rates will have to take into account the re-dangerous.
Michael C. Duff