Family of Amazon worker who died of a heart attack on Prime Day blame sweltering heat in unair-conditioned New Jersey warehouse
- Rafael Reynaldo Mota Frias, 42, died of cardiac arrest on July 13 in the Amazon EWR9 warehouse in Carteret, NJ
- The Dominican Republic native had worked for the company for 5 months and was described as a ‘hard worker’
- His cousin Marlen Frias said that his work contributed to his death
- Co-workers said that he complained of chest pains and that there was a delay in getting him help
- An Amazon spokesman denied the claims and said that Frias had been having chest pains the night before
- Federal occupational safety investigators will look into the death as Amazon accounts for 33 percent of all warehouse workers
- New Jersey Congressman Donald Norcross and other representatives have called for a federal probe
The Amazon employee who suffered a fatal heart attack in a fulfillment center on Prime Day worked under sweltering hot conditions that contributed to his death, his family and co-workers say.
Rafael Reynaldo Mota Frias, 42, died of cardiac arrest on July 13, in 92-degree heat during the online retailer’s busy season, prompting a federal workplace safety investigation.
‘He was accomplished at his job, but it was too demanding,’ the fallen worker’s cousin Marlen Frias told the Daily Beast.
Frias was a father and a ‘great person,’ his cousin said, who ‘always thought about everyone else.’
Rafael Reynaldo Mota Frias, 42, died of a heart attack in Amazon’s Carteret, NJ warehouse on July 13, Prime Day
A memorial to Frias, displayed on a monitor at EWR9 (the warehouse’s name), describes him as ‘a very hardworking associate always looking to help out where needed.’
‘His team and the entire EWR9 family are deeply saddened by this loss. We will remember Rafael and give our condolences to his family.’
Frias, who worked at the facility for five months, will be buried in his native Dominican Republic, according to the memorial.
His death has prompted renewed calls to unionize the warehouse and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has launched a six-month probe into what happened.
New Jersey Congressman Ronald Norcross, along with seven other Democratic representatives from the state, sent a letter to OSHA in May asking the labor conditions watchdog to look into worker injuries at the warehouse.
Amazon have denied that workplace conditions and a delay in providing medical care contributed to the death of warehouse worker Rafael Frias
Warehouse injuries spiked nearly 20 percent from 2020 to 2021, ‘despite commitments from then-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to improve working conditions,’ according to a letter from a NJ congressional delegation
The letter, which quoted a report into worker safety at the company, said that warehouse injuries spiked nearly 20 percent from 2020 to 2021, ‘despite commitments from then-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to improve working conditions.’
In the Garden State, worker injuries jumped 54 percent over the same period. Amazon accounts for 33 percent of all warehouse workers in the country, the Democratic delegation reported, but in 2021 it represented 49 percent of workers hurt on the job.
‘Despite commitments by Jeff Bezos to make Amazon the ‘Earth’s Safest Place to Work,’ reporting suggests that conditions for the Amazon workers are worsening and are out of line with industry norms,’ Norcross and the other delegates wrote.
Work-related injury statistics from OSHA showed that since 2017, Amazon reported higher rates of serious injuries that cause employees to miss work or shift to lighter duties, compared to other warehouse operators in retail, the Washington Post reported last year.
By comparison, Walmart, the largest private US employer and one of Amazon’s competitors, reported 2.5 serious cases per 100 workers at its facilities in 2020, the Post reported. Other companies included in the OSHA data are Bed, Bath & Beyond and Big Lots.
Bezos stepped down from leading Amazon in 2021, but in a 2020 letter to shareholders he vowed to be the ‘Earth’s Best Employer and the Earth’s Safest Place to Work.’
‘The fact is, the large team of thousands of people who lead operations at Amazon have always cared deeply for our hourly employees, and we’re proud of the work environment we’ve created,’ he said.
Injuries of Amazon warehouse workers in New Jersey alone have jumped 54 percent, according to a study
Frias’ former coworkers say the workplace is not safe enough.
According to a colleague who worked with the deceased Amazon employee, on July 13 he complained of chest pains while working his shift. He had to walk 15 minutes to the first aid office and then he walked back another 15 minutes to his work station before an ambulance was called, the woman, who asked not to be named, told NJ Spotlight News.
After 30 minutes of suffering, an ambulance was called, the worker said.
Christian Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union, wrote on Twitter that there was an even longer delay.
‘I was told not only did they take nearly a hour to call 911, he was unconscious on the floor for over 20 mins,’ Smalls wrote. ‘He warned management of chest pains they kept him working in path as a water spider in heated conditions.’
A ‘water spider’ is a worker who assists warehouse workers with needed supplies.
The temperature in Carteret on the day of Frias’ death was 92 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for the gargantuan online retailer, refuted the claims that work conditions were to blame and said that Frias got medical attention almost immediately.
‘We’re thankful for the quick actions of our own teams and the first responders. This has been a tragic situation for our employee’s family and for our colleagues at EWR9 who worked with him,’ Stephenson told the Daily Beast. ‘We are in contact with his family to offer support and are providing counseling resources to employees needing additional care.’
The spokesman told the publication that their internal investigation found that Frias had been suffering chest pains the day before.
Before he stepped down as CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, pictured, vowed to make the company the safest place on earth
But a complaint submitted to OSHA’s field office indicates that heat was a factor in Frias’ death.
‘He was telling the managers that in the area he worked was too hot. Many others complained as well,’ according to the report. ‘They just told employees to work through it, they would be fine. Two hours later he was dead.’
AmCare, the ambulance service used by Amazon to treat workers, has been warned before for allegedly covering up work-related injuries in other New Jersey facilities.
They responded to the call to help Frias.
‘This is the kicker. The AmCare people just came, put him on a wheel, put a mask on his face, and wheeled him through the facility like nothing happened! We were all in shock,’ according to the anonymous complaint.
‘Now management is telling people that he “died in the parking lot” and that if we talk or mention anything about it we will get fired! This incident was the last straw for me at this company.’
An Amazon spokesman contests that ‘911 was immediately called and arrived at the site within 16 minutes of when the medical incident occurred.’
The Carteret warehouse is not unionized, but it sits just across the Arthur Kill straight that separates New Jersey from Staten Island, New York, where workers were the first Amazon warehouse employees to unionize after much resistance from the company.
Rising complaints among workers have indicated that more union efforts are currently in progress.
‘In regards to the worker who passed away I personally will be filing a complaint with the local OSHA on top of that we will be organizing EWR9 @amazonlabor this one’s personal #Hotlaborsummer,’ Smalls tweeted.