Amazon’s Shipping Warehouses Are Hellish Sweatshops, Apparently

Do you enjoy buying stuff on the internet from online retail giants like Amazon? Who doesn’t, right? More often than not, it’s fast, cheap and hella convenient. What’s not to love?

Well, according to the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning Call, workers at Amazon’s Lehigh Valley warehouse are treated like you’d expect labor to be treated in places like China, forced to work long hours in extreme heat for wages barely above the legal minimum. Things were so bad, in fact, that Amazon had ambulances stationed on 24 hour standby outside the warehouse because the employees there, including pregnant women, were dropping frequently like proverbial flies when, fearing theft, they refused to open warehouse doors during a brutal heat wave. Instead, Amazon provided employees with free popsicles and bandanas to cool them off. And to think that people have been boycotting Walmart for years because of the way they treat employees! Working for Walmart sound like working at Yahoo in the mid-90s compared to working at an Amazon warehouse.

Reports the Morning Call:

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.

Only one of the employees interviewed described it as a good place to work.

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.

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. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.

Holy Jesus what a hellhole! And the sad thing is, in this economy, people are kind of forced to take these warehouse jobs — which are advertised as taking place in a “fun, fast-paced” environment — to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. Even more appalling, Amazon hires most of these people through a temp agency, so they can then wash their hands of some of the responsibility.

But wait it get’s better…

Who doesn’t love to be micromanaged EVERY SECOND OF THE DAY?!

Both permanent and temporary employees are subject to a point-based disciplinary system. Employees accumulate points for such infractions as missing work, not working fast enough or breaking a safety rule such as keeping two hands on an inventory cart. If they get too many points, they can be fired. In the event of illness, employees have to bring in a doctor’s note and request a medical waiver to have their disciplinary points removed, those interviewed said.

Not working fast enough, or failing to “make rate,” is a common reason employees get disciplinary points, those interviewed said. Workers are expected to maintain a rate, measured in units per hour, which varies depending on the job and the size of inventory being handled. Products moving through the warehouse range broadly in size, from compact discs and iPods to chain saws. Workers use hand-held scanners to track inventory as it moves through the warehouse, which enables managers to monitor productivity minute by minute, employees said.

So what happens when Amazon warehouse workers complain?

She wrote a letter to Amazon’s human resources manager at the Breinigsville warehouse about the working conditions, saying sometimes minutes go unaccounted for in the system because workers use the restroom, their scanners stop working and they have to log back into the system, aisles get crowded requiring workers to take longer routes to retrieve inventory, or workers move at a slower pace if they are not feeling well. Salasky invited the human resources manager to contact her about the concerns. She said she never received a response.

When the weather got hot in May, Salasky said, her work pace dropped, which prompted questions from supervisors.

“I just kept pushing myself,” she said. “They asked me why my rates were dropping, and I said my rates are dropping because it’s hot and I have asthma.”

Salasky said she would cry herself to sleep at night. She and her colleagues lamented about the heat, often chanting sarcastically “End slavery at Amazon.”

And what did Amazon have to say about all this when confront by the paper, you ask?

The Morning Call forwarded concerns of workers to Amazon. The company didn’t answer specific questions about the number of people working in the warehouse, the turnover rate or the working conditions. Instead, Amazon spokeswoman Michele Glisson emailed a statement, which she attributed to Vickie Mortimer, general manager at the Upper Macungie warehouse.

“The safety and welfare of our employees is our No. 1 priority at Amazon, and as the general manager, I take that responsibility seriously,” Mortimer said. “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.”

Oh but hey that Amazon redesign sure looks spiffy, doesn’t it?