Local Paper Turns Up the Heat on Amazon’s Warehouse Working Conditions

Sept. 22, 2011
Shoppers across the globe log onto Amazon’s Web site to purchase books, movies, CDs and a range of household and other products at low prices. But on the other side of these orders are warehouse workers who must pack and ship items to customers. According to a Sept. 17 article in The Morning Call, a newspaper based in Allentown, Pa., the Amazon warehouse in nearby Breinigsville, Pa., fostered an unhealthy work environment and exposed workers to dangerously hot conditions.

The Morning Call interviewed 20 current and former employees from the warehouse, many of whom claimed the online retailer giant pushed them to continue working in extreme temperatures. The article details workers who say they were pressured to maintain high productivity levels in a warehouse where the heat index sometimes rose above 110 degrees F, and where paramedics were stationed to treat those struggling from the heat.

"I've never worked for an employer that had paramedics waiting outside for people to drop because of the extreme heat,” Karen Salasky, a former Amazon employee, told The Morning Call.

Many of the employees were temporary workers employed through a local staffing agency; they said they hoped to become full-time Amazon employees, a goal very few actually reached. When workers became too ill to work or were terminated for lagging productivity levels, they were replaced by other temporary workers, according to the paper.

The Morning Call reported that an employee contacted OSHA about the dangerous working conditions in early June, when 15 workers allegedly collapsed from the heat. A concerned doctor who treated workers from the warehouse also apparently called OSHA to call attention to the conditions. OSHA inspected the warehouse on June 9, and Amazon took some steps to protect workers from the heat, such as offering cooling bandanas and installing additional fans, the paper reported. For employees who claimed they were working in temperatures exceeding 110 degrees F later that summer, however, the changes were not enough.

"I don't know how they can treat people this way," Salasky told The Morning Call. "I think the faster you work, the bigger raise they get, and they're just benefiting themselves and not caring about people. I used to shop Amazon all the time. I will never shop Amazon again."

Amazon Responds

When EHS Today contacted Amazon for comment, Michele Glisson in the company’s corporate communications department sent a statement: “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.”

The statement added that the company’s warehouse teams faced “record hot temperatures” over the summer, and Amazon plans to outfit warehouses with air conditioning.

“We have air conditioning in some 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,” the statement concluded.

"A lot of people say it's hot and you feel aggravated at times and you wish it wasn't as hot as it was, but it's the nature of the job," Ron Heckman, a Breinigsville warehouse employee, told The Morning Call. "Not many people felt it was unbearable."

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