Amazon is denying what it describes as “rumors” that a Carteret, N.J. plant worker’s death during its two-day Prime Day promotion was work-related — saying the employee had chest pains the night prior, but didn’t tell any colleagues or managers onsite.

Suggestions the employee's death were work-related “are false,” spokesman Sam Stephenson told Gothamist by email.

“Our internal investigation has shown that this was not a work-related incident, and instead was related to a personal medical condition,” he said.

But U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 1st District, puts limited stock in a conclusion the company made itself after less than two weeks. He stressed he doesn’t know what happened in the death — but said it’ll be up to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to provide an unbiased answer.

“Amazon clearly has a vested interest in putting the correct spin on this. It's their reputation,” Norcross, who earlier this year led much of the state’s congressional delegation in drafting a letter to OSHA, asking it to conduct an analysis that could help determine if warehouse operations like Amazon’s need more oversight. “OSHA has no incentive to do anything but (seek) the truth and find out what happened to prevent any kind of injury or death in the workplace from happening again.”

The congressman, a former union electrician in the construction industry, said he’d worked during three incidents where workers died.

“You will never forget it if you're on that job,” he said. “It is a very big deal."

Stephenson said that given the evidence Amazon has reviewed, “we fully expect that (OSHA) will reach the same conclusion” the company did.

Stephenson’s statement didn’t address when the death took place, but OSHA previously confirmed to Gothamist it took place July 13th, the second day of the Prime Day promotion. Carteret officials also confirmed that they responded to a first aid call that morning and transported a person to the hospital.

Thursday Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, wrote on Twitter that he’d learned “disturbing details” of the worker’s death, but didn’t say how he came by any information he might have.

“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.” Water spider is an Amazon term for a worker who helps keep other employees stocked with needed materials.

Smalls hasn’t yet returned emails or a Twitter private message sent Monday seeking more information.

Reddit users whose real names weren’t revealed made similar claims on a thread about the worker’s death. Gothamist has reached out to those users, seeking more information as well.

But Stephenson said that immediately after the employee collapsed, an on-site medical expert responded and began treatment. 911 was called immediately as well, and arrived within 16 minutes, he said.

Amazon clearly has a vested interest in putting the correct spin on this. It's their reputation.

U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross

“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 (the Amazon facility designation) who worked with him,” Stephenson said. “We are in contact with his family to offer support and are providing counseling resources to employees needing additional care.”

His email didn’t identify the worker, but did confirm he was a “water spider." He said Amazon learned about the worker’s chest pains from a fellow employee during its own investigation, but that the pains hadn’t been reported to colleagues on-site.

Increased scrutiny

Just days after the Carteret worker’s death, OSHA inspected Amazon warehouses in the areas of New York City, Chicago and Orlando for potential hazards, based on referrals from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The district office is also asking current and former Amazon warehouse workers for accounts of their experiences via its website.

The office “is investigating workplace safety and related issues at Amazon warehouses, including injuries resulting from workplace hazards, worker rate requirements and the pace of work, and whether Amazon appropriately reported on-the-job injuries,” it says on the contact form.

Norcross called that “extremely unusual.”

“OSHA, who has primary jurisdiction, and quite frankly are the experts on this, is reviewing what we asked them to do,” he said, referencing the letter he and colleagues sent this spring. “What we don't know is what the U.S. Attorney's Office is getting involved for."

A report by a Rutgers researcher and think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective in April found that in 2021, Amazon accounted for 47% of all employment in New Jersey’s general warehouse and storage industry — but 57% of serious injuries in the sector.

The report found that nationwide, the serious injury rate among workers at Amazon warehouses was more than twice the serious injury rate at all other warehouse employers.

New Jersey is home to 53 Amazon facilities, and the company employs 49,000 people in the Garden State, Nicole Rodriguez, Policy Perspectives research director and an author of the report, testified to New Jersey legislators in May. But she pointed to findings she found worrying — for instance, that the total recordable injury rate among Amazon warehouse employees in 2021 was 5.8 per 100 workers, up from 3.8 in 2020.

“New Jersey is fast becoming Amazon’s staging ground to build and strengthen its presence across the country,” she said. “Amazon needs our public assets — our roads, highways, and ports — which unfortunately exacerbates pollution. … But, ultimately, they need our workers. And we need enforceable standards to protect our workers.”

After the report’s release, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel told NorthJersey.com the company’s recordable injury rate nationwide actually dropped from 2019 to 2021 — by more than 13% — “while the three other large retailers in our industry saw their rates increase." She also said the company spent $300 million on safety upgrades at its facilities in 2021.

Amazon and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey recently walked away from a deal to open a hub at Newark Liberty International Airport — a proposal that had been opposed by community and activists who said the area was already overburdened by pollution, and that the company wouldn’t commit to the labor and environmental standards they sought.

A previous version of this article misstated the date on which an Amazon worker died at the company's Carteret facility. It was July 13th.