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Workers across St. Louis sectors want to feel safer while at their jobs

A Black woman with shoulder-length black holds a microphone while reading from a piece of paper. Behind her are other people, holding signs.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Amazon employee Wendy Taylor speaks during a press conference held by the Missouri Workers Center, Amazon warehouse workers and nurses on Wednesday outside the Amazon Fulfillment Center in St. Peters. Taylor has worked at the plant for more than three years.

Workers in different sectors in the St. Louis region want their respective employers to change the way they respond to injuries employees have while working.

Amazon employees, nurses and workers rights advocates gathered outside Amazon’s fulfillment center in St. Peters on Wednesday to call out working conditions they say don’t help employees stay healthy.

“It’s just the stress of trying to make your rate and move so fast,” said Amazon packer Wendy Taylor. “Whatever algorithm they used to design that, they didn’t take safety into account. People are just overextending themselves.”

This past March, Taylor said she tore her meniscus after tripping over an empty pallet behind her station. After this instance, which is detailed in a complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Taylor went to Amazon’s in-house medical team, AmCare, where she received ice treatment and ibuprofen before being sent back to work.

Amazon in a statement said that AmCare provides first aid and that “onsite medical representatives should immediately refer an employee outside for treatment if they need care beyond basic first aid, or if an employee requests it.”

But Taylor said this wasn’t her experience.

“I requested a doctor several times, and they just ignored it and tried to minimize my injuries and basically wouldn’t allow me to see a doctor,” she said. “When you come in (to AmCare) their whole objective is to get you back on the work floor ASAP.”

A diptych of two vertical images. The left image is of a button reading "Missouri Workers Center" on a button up shirt. The right image is of people standing in front of an Amazon plant, holding signs that read "Health & Safety Over Profits" and "Amazon Hurts."
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
LEFT: Lee Stitt, an organizing coordinator with the Missouri Workers Center, wears a button during a press conference held on Wednesday outside the Amazon Fulfillment Center in St. Peters. RIGHT: Amazon warehouse workers and nurses stand with signs during the event.

Other workers at the St. Peters facility shared similar experiences where they say they felt rushed back to work after sustaining injuries. Chris Manno explained she developed carpal tunnel in both hands from the repetitive movements of her job.

“They sent me back to work too soon, only allowing me one day off after surgeries,” she said. “Now my hands are worse than before. I have difficulty writing, putting on mascara, doing my hair or just making dinner.”

Manno said she also hurt her neck while working in 2022 and fears the injuries she’s sustained will remain for the rest of her life.

“When you get hurt at work, you shouldn’t be treated this way,” she said. “Their in-house clinic minimized my injuries.”

Overall, Amazon said these cases don’t reflect the broader safety at the St. Peter’s facility.

“We take our employees’ feedback seriously, but the views of a few don’t necessarily represent those of the more than 3,500 employees at the site,” said Amazon spokesperson Maureen Lynch Vogel. “There’s nothing more important than employees’ health and safety, and we’ll continue working to enhance it at STL8 and across our network.”

Vogel says the company disputes Taylor's account of her medical treatment and that she was released for full duty by a third-party medical provider.

Vogel also points to OSHA data that pegs the St. Peters warehouse injury rate below the industry average. Some of Amazon’s other facilities post much higher injury rates.

A Black woman with red braids and a blue t-shirt reading "Missouri Workers Center" gives a one armed hug to a young Black boy in a black hoodie. They are looking in opposite directions — her toward something happening out of frame, him up toward the sky.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Latwanya Davis hugs her nephew Randal Ford Jr. on the sidelines of a press conference held by the Missouri Workers Center, workers at Amazon and nurses on Wednesday outside the Amazon Fulfillment Center in St. Peters.

Nurses in St. Louis drew parallels to Amazon workers sharing experiences where they or their colleagues worked through injury or illness.

“You’re constantly working through back pain, foot pain, leg pain, headaches,” said Rachel Williams, a registered nurse at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital. “It’s just go, go, go. You can’t even sit and rest for a minute sometimes.”

Williams said this is a result of the hospital not having enough staff, something the hospital's nurses went on strike over in September. It’s created an environment where nurses overextend themselves, she said.

“We’re kind of expected as nurses to go to work sick, to go to work injured,” she said. “We’re penalized for taking time off for taking care of ourselves, for taking care of our families.”

SSM Health disputes this and said in a statement that the well-being of its team members is a top priority. The hospital adds it has “a generous paid time off policy which encourages and supports individuals in taking necessary time away from work for an optimal work/life balance.”

But to fellow registered nurse Earline Shephard, the working environment doesn’t encourage time off.

“We love our job,” she said. “There is an issue if we call off because we’re sick and we don’t want to let our patients down, so we do come in and take care of our patients.”

Shephard added she wants to see SSM Health work with nurses to achieve a strong contract that will alleviate staffing issues and take better care of nurses and patients.

“We want better work protection and safe staffing,” she said. “Because if we’re not safe, the patients are not safe, the community is not safe.”

This story was updated on Monday, Oct. 16 to provide additional comment from Amazon.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.