The North Star


A worker dies during holiday season

Amazon Peak Season Kills

Read Time:3 Minute

Subscribe to our newsletter:

Over the holiday season on December 27, 2022, 61-year-old Rick Jacobs died of a heart attack at an Amazon fulfillment centre in Colorado, US. Outrage was sparked when reports came out that workers were made to work within 10ft of Jacobs' body, which managers had covered with boxes. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique: a North Star ainvestigation has found that many workers at this global corporation die each year around this time.

Spanning from mid-October to early-January, and also including Prime Week in July, peak season is a notoriously busy and dreaded time for Amazon workers. Forced Mandatory Extra Time (MET) and increased production demands put extreme stress on workers, and in the case of Rafael Mota Frias, this stress provoked a fatal heart attack on Prime Day of last year at a New Jersey fulfillment centre.

North Star found that 40% of all worker deaths in Amazon warehouses around the world occurred during peak season. Out of the deaths that were reported, over 20% of them were caused by heart attacks. "I was sorting in the back of a truck, and inside of that enclosed space with the boxes and the conveyor it gets really, really hot," François, a former sorter at the YUL2 Amazon warehouse in Lachine, QC, told North Star.

"But when it's hot and humid, it's even worse. You can hardly breathe. I've personally experienced a hard time breathing and heart palpitations as well. This was at the same time that guy in New Jersey died. A father of four, Rafael. This guy died during peak period. So then I heard, whoa, this guy died and I was doing the same thing in the truck." Ibrahim, another former Amazon worker, shared a similar experience.

Year after year, Amazon's fourth quarter - which makes up all of peak season - has always been its most profitable. The average yearly increase in net revenue between their third quarter and fourth quarter over the past five years has been 30%, and in 2021 their net revenue went from 110.8 billion (Q3) to 137.4 billion (Q4). Since 2019, the average wage of an Amazon warehouse worker in Canada has gone up 17%, in that same time frame Amazon's total revenue has increased by 67%.

Workers in DXT4, DXT5, YUL5 and YUL2 that were interviewed by North Star, reported incidents of colleagues regularly getting injured and having to take time off work, as well as  major incidents like a suicide attempt and people collapsing. According to a former human resources manager at DXT6 interviewed by the Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC), "Amazon claims that without us, the managers, the warehouse is caput, finished. This is while associates work on the floor like slaves, and they are the ones who deliver the smiles (packages) at the end of the day, and they're treated like shit."

The HR manager was told in their training, faced with an injured worker, "My job is to question them and see if there is any flaw in their story, whether they were drinking the previous night, if they used drugs, if they got enough sleep the night before, anything to take the accountability off of Amazon. If I couldn't find anything, the next step is to get them to quit, to push them out the door."

In the U.S., serious injury rates in Amazon warehouses are 6.8 per 100 workers, which is more than double the rate at non-Amazon warehouses in the country. The reality in Canada is worse, injury rates in Canadian warehouses were 15% higher in 2019 than the corporation’s U.S. average. The IWC and the CSN will be holding a press conference at 10am on Friday, January 20, 2023 at the CSN's Montreal office, to bring awareness to Amazon's systematic violations of the health and safety of their workers, and the suppression of organizing campaigns in warehouses.  North Star will be present and we will be livestreaming the press conference on our Instagram and Facebook pages.

Support journalism going against the tide ← To help North Star continue to produce stories from the majority's perspective and in the majority's interest, make a donation! Every contribution matters.