UPDATE: A reliable source privately contacted me that Amazon is moving towards cleaning up its act. Great news! However, this person encouraged us to keep the pressure on through sharing stories and information on Amazon employee practices to push the company towards implementing these changes as it will may be an uphill battle.
Original post: When I first found Amazon, I was enthralled. Instead of scouring the web for each product I needed, they were all coming to me. Or so it seemed. Sure some weren’t there or were priced higher than on the actual websites or had exorbitant shipping (then I wasn’t an Amazon Prime member), but the concept was empowering to me as a pure consumer.
Many years later, when I read Amazon was opening local warehouses all over the country and there were debates about same-day shipping, I was again captivated. I had little kids and little time and the idea of going from shop-to-shop to find what I wanted when I wanted it was overwhelming. Same-day shipping sounded wonderful, although ominous to local businesses, but I had just had a bad experience with one in town, and I thought of the jobs it could create. I was also intrigued on a more basic level because I like change and future and technology. I like Amazon. I like the convenience, the price, the deals on Amazon local. I like being an Amazon Prime member for my family and being an Amazon affiliate on my blogs.
But now that the warehouses exist and are only growing, I can’t ignore the news about their warehouse conditions. I may have found ways to enjoy the perks and set aside the downfalls of this behemoth by saying businesses put businesses out of business all the time. (I just can’t say five times fast.) But when one of the wealthiest men in America can’t create safe working conditions and job security for his own employees, I’m not okay. I don’t believe in unfettered capitalism. I don’t believe in an America that looks like this.
An emergency room doctor had to call federal investors to report Amazon.com’s Lehigh Valley warehouse for unsafe conditions last summer because employees were coming in with heat-related injuries due to the temperatures of the warehouse reaching 100 degrees — no air-conditioning — and the doctor wasn’t the first to report them:
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.
I can’t imagine working somewhere where the company decides to save money by having ambulances and new workers on-call rather than a safe working environment. While Amazon finally retro-fitted the warehouses for AC the following year and toted themselves as “really leading the way.” Just not to the ER anymore.
Amazon’s system is one of many warehouses. The wave of the future according to our president who chose last month to give his speech on middle-class jobs at an Amazon distribution center in Tennessee. How could this be where we are heading? I know we are competing with China, but I think wanting to be like Apple and FoxConn is a bit too far.
Another journalist, Mac McClelland, went undercover at a similar warehouse (she can’t disclose the company so she called it “Amalgamated”):
Within the last month, three different people have needed stitches in the head after being clocked by these big metal bars, so it’s dangerous. Especially the lift in the Dallas sector, whose bar has been installed wrong, so it is extra prone to falling, they tell us. Be careful. Seriously, though. We really need to meet our goals here…
…Thank God that I (unlike Brian*, probably) didn’t need to pay for opting into Amalgamated’s “limited” health insurance program. Because in my 10.5-hour day I’ll make about $60 after taxes.
*Brian was a worker who was fired his first week for taking a day off when his wife had a child. He came back through the hiring practice a few weeks later and was used as an example of why workers can’t miss a single day or be a minute late their first week of work.
Most of these warehouses employ large numbers of temporary workers through staffing agencies where raises, work schedules, and decent healthcare aren’t rights and these temporary workers are used throughout the year with upticks at holiday times because they can. “Temporary” can go on for years and the individual can be called in or out whenever.
New jobs in America are great news, but any job is not better than no job. People should not have to work at places believing their jobs are constantly at risk by being temporary workers . People should not be given unreachable goals so firing them is acceptable because the warehouse is in an area that automatically creates an advantage. People should not feel unsafe. And this certainly doesn’t sound like a middle-class solution to me nor does it seem like a plan for any class of workers.
This isn’t even good business. Unhappy employees, high turnover rate, lost time training people, bad public relations. While I would not want to see this as a one-day PR stunt, I would like to know if CEO Jeff Bezos has actually tried to run from 5-12 miles a day on the concrete floors in the time allotted to reach the high shipment goals given day-after-day.
Yet this industry is growing by leaps and bounds. While Amazon might work on a tight profit margin (1% is the figure I’ve seen thrown around), would people pay a bit more to know that others were treat better? Do I need my stickers or paper towels or winter hat in two days?
Of course, I’m in a financial position where I can choose whether to shop online or in stores. I can pay a bit more. I can boycott and end my affiliation if Amazon doesn’t make changes. But the people working in these warehouse whose job prospect are bad enough to take these jobs in the first place? They also may need the Amazon deals. They may need the $11 an hour versus the minimum wage paid by some (not all) of the local businesses. It’s not going to be everyone’s story, but it’s going to be enough stories that I can’t say it’s the merely the customers’ faults either.
I wonder how Jeff Bezos can have so much money that buying the Washington Post is only 1% of wealth. Perhaps the problem of Amazon is internal. After all, why are some businesses able to do right by their employees even without specific government regulations or stories in the news forcing them to do so? Of course, not enough companies act well enough to make unfettered capitalism reasonable, but when business people complain about regulations, they should glare at the companies that mistreat employees among other destructive decisions before pointing fingers at the government. Clearly, temporary workers and high unemployment areas should not be a loophole as this industry grows. Meanwhile, I’ll be wondering what to do about my Amazon affiliations both personally and professionally.
Disclaimer: As stated, I am an Amazon affiliated. Obviously, there are none in this piece. I just used an image they provide to affiliates but not the link.