Is Amazon Warehouse Literally a Sweatshop?

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Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world -- you press a button on your computer and seemingly overnight your item arrives at your door. Such an operation requires a huge support staff, but workers at one Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania are complaining that they are literally working under sweatshop conditions.

A very, very long story in The Morning Call details the working conditions at a warehouse in Leigh Valley. The site said it spoke with 20 former or current employees and just one of them said it was a good place to work.

The Morning Call writes:

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. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.

It was the heat aspect that drew the most complaints. They said tempertatures routinely soar into the 100s during summer heat waves. It gets so bad, the workers said, that Amazon arranged to have paramedics standing by to treat workers who become dehydrated or suffer from other heat-related issues. It is not unusual, the workers claimed, to see employees being wheeled out of the warehouse in stretchers.

Amazon would let workers go home if they wanted to.

"When the heat index exceeded 110, they'd give you voluntary time off," former employee Robert Rivas said. "If you wanted to go home, they'd send you home. But if you didn't have a doctor's note saying you couldn't work in the heat, you'd get (disciplinary) points."

Get too many points and you're fired, so many workers would muddle through.

In June one worker called the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Following an inspection OSHA issued recommendations to Amazon on how to better manage the heat in the warehouse.

"Several conditions and practices were observed which have the potential to adversely impact on employee safety and health," OSHA's area director Jean Kulp said in a letter to Amazon.

The recommendations included reducing heat and humidity in the warehouse, providing hourly breaks in a cool area and personal fans at each work station.

Workers said Amazon has installed cooling units and fans since the inspection. Breaks are longer, but they still must produce the same amount of work.

In an email to The Morning Call, warehouse general manager Michele Glisson wrote:

"The safety and welfare of our employees is our No. 1 priority at Amazon, and as the general manager, I take that responsibility seriously. We go to great lengths to ensure a safe work environment, with activities that include free water, snacks, extra fans and cooled air during the summer. I am grateful to work with such a fantastic group of employees from our community, and we partner with them every day to make sure our facility is a great place to work."


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