Kudos to Spencer Soper of the Allentown (PA) Morning Call newspaper for breaking what has become a national story about horrible working conditions in Amazon.com’s Lehigh Valley warehouse (link here):
Over the past two months, The Morning Call interviewed 20 current and former warehouse workers who showed pay stubs, tax forms or other proof of employment. They offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it’s like to work in the Amazon warehouse, where temperatures soar on hot summer days, production rates are difficult to achieve and the permanent jobs sought by many temporary workers hired by an outside agency are tough to get.
Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said.
During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. . . . An emergency room doctor in June called federal regulators to report an “unsafe environment” after he treated several Amazon warehouse workers for heat-related problems.
I shop often at Amazon, and I own a small amount of Amazon stock in my retirement portfolio. I wanted to register my concerns, and early on Tuesday evening I wrote to Amazon’s customer service desk:
I am a Prime customer who spends quite a bit of money with you. I enjoy your fast, dependable service and appreciate the remarkable convenience of shopping on the Amazon site.
However, I was very dismayed to read about the situation where Amazon warehouse workers had been subjected to such a inhumane working environment.
I realize there are legitimate differences of opinion about employee relations, but treating workers in a physically or psychologically abusive manner is inexcusable.
I would welcome assurances from your company that such practices will be addressed and stopped. As a customer I am willing to pay more in order to ensure that workers up and down Amazon’s supply chain are treated well.
Thank you for considering my concerns.
A quick response
I received a very fast response from Amazon:
At Amazon, the safety and well-being of our employees is our number one priority. We have several procedures in place to ensure the safety of our associates during the summer heat, including increased breaks, shortened shifts, constant reminders and help about hydration, and extra ice machines.
Our fulfillment team was dealing with record hot temperatures this past summer. We have air conditioning in some of our fulfillment centers — Phoenix, AZ for example — but we haven’t historically had air conditioning in our East Coast fulfillment centers. We’re in the process of adding air conditioning to additional fulfillment centers so that we’re prepared in case what we saw this past summer becomes the new normal.
Thank you for your feedback. We hope to see you again soon.
Falls short of the mark
I appreciated the fast response but was very disappointed in its content.
Many moons ago, I worked in retail warehouses in the Midwest during college summers. High temperatures and humidity combined with the heavy-duty physical nature of the work make summer warehouse work a very hard job. Amazon’s response makes it sound like the 2011 temperatures were an extreme aberration from the past that caught them by surprise, but frankly I’m doubtful. In any event, given the health impact on their workers, extreme remedial measures were called for, and Amazon dropped the ball.
In addition, Amazon’s response did not address the general working conditions of Amazon workers as reported in the Morning Call article. It is interesting that the response centered mainly on the problem of working in excessive heat.
Overall, it appears from the Morning Call news article that Amazon fell way, way short of making employees their “number one priority.”