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Amazon Workplace Deaths Raise PR Issues

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Amazon needs a public relations refresh. The international e-store with an annual income of $232.9 billion is failing its employees.

Amazon has expanded to be one of the most prominent and well-respected companies in the nation. With its advances in affordability, product offerings and delivery services, its success is mainly attributed to its approach to its customer. With over 310 million active users and 100 million subscribers worldwide, they are the world’s leading online retailer, manufacturer, and Web services provider.

Few controversies have caused a dent in Amazon’s brand image or finances. However, the social media outreach begging Amazon to reconsider their ethical practices has reached an all-time high in the last three years. In 2018, Mike Gellasch, a 61-year-old employee at Amazon’s fulfilment centre in Tennessee, died of cardiac arrest while on shift. Allegedly, no one could find a working communication device to call for help in time. However, an audio recording revealed that a security guard had put a 911 operator on hold and then never came back to the line.

In 2019, a similar incident occurred, and Amazon reacted similarly without improving communications or first-aid tactics. Billy Foister, a 48-year-old warehouse worker, had a heart attack at work and was on the floor for 20 minutes before receiving treatment from Amazon’s internal safety responders. Foister passed away on site.

A previous worker told the International Amazon Workers Voice that the rate per hour is an impossible task, no matter what privileges are removed from the worker. Amazon was number one on the 2019 Dirty Dozen list from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, including them in the most dangerous employers in the United States. Six Amazon workers have passed away while working, and the report includes several news articles over the past few years that have detailed dangerous working conditions.

So far, Amazon has released a response statement claiming the safety of associates is the number one priority. They claimed the team has worked with associates to ensure they know how to respond in the event of an emergency.

This was not enough to fix the issue.

From statements about poor air conditioning in 2012 to unreasonably timed bathroom breaks in 2018, Amazon has faced backlash over its ethical practices for years. Amazon responded by creating Amazon Fulfillment Centre Ambassadors who are “volunteering” to tweet their positive work stories when in reality it was released that they are being rewarded with Amazon gift cards and an extra day off.

2020 American President Elect Bernie Sanders has urged CEO Jeff Bezos to improve work conditions.

“I stand with the Amazon workers fighting for decent working conditions and a living wage,” Sanders told Vox via email. “I hope Jeff Bezos will explain why he thinks it’s acceptable that he makes hundreds of millions of dollars a day while Amazon employees are grossly underpaid and forced to rely on government programs to survive.”

What should be done? Here are some recommendations from a PR student:

1. Investigate! Find out the root of the problem

There is a disconnect in communications between employees and management and management to directors. Find security footage of what exactly happened and conduct interviews of all employees working in the area during all six incidents. If there is a problem with communication, it will be shown. If there is a technology issue, it will be shown in the videos. Investigate to figure out where to allocate your time.

2. Take preventative action

Install an EMT station or an emergency response station where you can get a straight call out to 911. Install a first-aid station on every level — train employees and management on how to provide first-aid and CPR. The health and safety team should be allowed cell phones on their work shifts in case of emergencies.

3. It’s not you, it’s me

Contact employees directly through a letter from the CEO or a CEO blog. Tell employees to come forward with any concerns. It is vital that employees believe the company is working towards change. Tell employees that you take responsibility and that these actions were unacceptable. The CEO should discuss their responsibility for the matter, and how they will continue to improve training for all staff.

The managers on duty should be put on leave pending investigations, and all employees will receive mourning days. Be transparent with this. Our positioning statements need to pertain to enforcing customer and employee loyalty.

Issue a thorough apology and create new policies to decrease employees stress while on the job.

4. Amazon needs to use the CCO model in its official statement

Compassion: The company needs to express empathy and compassion towards the victims. Understanding the severity of the situation and conveying the shared emotions will assist in convincing the public of their sincerity.

Conviction: Amazon needs to demonstrate affirmative action quickly to cater to employees that may already be willing to leave the company. Amazon must discuss their dedication to improve policies around health and safety.

Optimism: The spokesperson must discuss the bigger picture at hand by proving what preventative action has started taking place, and remaining hopeful for the future of employee success.

5. Change or implement a new mission statement

The mission statement of Amazon is “We strive to offer our customers the lowest possible prices, the best available selection, and the utmost convenience.” The statement embarks services that go beyond meeting customers needs

As a company, it’s important for Amazon to alter this statement or reinvent one that shows optimism for customers and employees. Amazon should strive to offer employees the highest standard of health and safety practices, including accommodations that are personalized and effective.

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Abbey Cole is a motivated Public Relations student who is passionate about diversity and inclusion. Since 2018, she has been a strong community member at #UofGH as the Social Media Assistant. She hopes to become an international change maker and be featured MXN’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada before 2030. Abbey currently hosts weekly Club House live podcast rooms to discuss a variety of media relations topics. More information can be found on her LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/acole04/

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