SCDigest: Amazon.com in Hot Corner After Reports of Sweltering DC’s
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Supply Chain Digest.
Amazon.com recently found itself in a real hot corner after an article in the local newspaper in Allentown, PA found working conditions at an Amazon distribution center (DC) approaching — if not reaching — third-world sweatshop levels.
The hubbub started when Allentown’s Morning Call published a story on Sept. 16 based on interviews it conducted with about 20 employees in the Allentown DC. According to the article, temperatures inside the DC regularly soared to 100 degrees or more this summer, causing a number of employees to experience health problems.
In June, a local emergency room doctor, after seeing a number of employees at the DC come in with health problems related to overheating, had called federal regulators to report an "unsafe environment" at the DC. The Morning Call interviews included one from a security guard who reported seeing pregnant employees suffering in the heat. Another said the extreme heat made him "light headed" at times and his legs cramped, symptoms he never experienced in previous warehouse jobs. On other hot days, he claimed "paramedics brought people out of the warehouse in wheelchairs and on stretchers."
Employees also complained of productivity standards that were extremely difficult to meet, and that many workers were threatened with termination for failing to meet those standards, even in the stifling heat.
The jobs, many of which were run through a temporary staffing agency, pay around $11-12.00 per hour for temps. Temps were told by the agency that they could ultimately find full-time positions.
In the article, however, Morning Call said that "few people in their working groups actually made it to a permanent Amazon position. Instead, they were pushed harder and harder to work faster and faster until they were terminated, they quit or they got injured. Those interviewed say turnover at the warehouse is high and many hires don’t last more than a few months."
Amazon did not seem to dispute the article’s findings. In a public statement released on Sept. 22, the company said it spent $2.4 million "urgently" installing new air conditioning systems at four U.S. distribution centers, including the one in Allentown.
"These industrial air conditioning units were online and operational by late July and early August," Amazon said. "This was not mandated by any governmental agency, and in fact air conditioning remains an unusual practice in warehouses. We’ll continue to operate these air conditioning units or equivalent ones in future summers."
Amazon’s statement also said: "At Amazon, the safety and well-being of our employees is our No. 1 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."
However, a follow up article in the Morning Call said that the workers it interviewed claimed "the warehouses remained hot unless they were in close proximity to those systems."
- Amazon.com in Hot Corner after Reports of Sweltering DCs, "Urgently" Buys $2.4 Millon in Air Conditioners – Supply Chain Digest
- Inside Amazon’s warehouse – The Morning Call
- A Message from Amazon – Amazon.com
Discussion Questions: What’s your take on this story on working conditions in the Amazon distribution center? Are DC conditions similar to this common in retailing and related industries?