By Nate Jackson Amazon.com is the largest online retailer in the world. The company based in Seattle has led the industry of online retailing in efficiency, selection and prices. It has shiny offices, tall buildings and young well dressed software engineers strolling about town, but it has secrets that it doesn’t want you to see. One of those secrets is how poorly it treats thousands of its workers right here in America.
We are not talking about the business suit employees you see rushing around South Lake Union or riding the Seattle Streetcar, the gift from Paul Allen. We are talking about the backbone of any retailer, the warehouse workers who get the goods moving from your online shopping cart to your real world doorstep. You click, they work, and according to Amazon warehouse workers, often in horrible, terribly unsafe conditions.
Recent media investigations revealed that workers in the Amazon.com warehouses are under constant threat from management to meet exhausting productivity levels while trying to deal with long hours, unsafe work sites, including high heat and a lack of training and safety/lifting gear, unforgiving concrete flooring, low pay and few, if any, benefits such as a day off.
Amazon warehouse workers are treated like disposable employees, often employed through "temp" firms in schemes designed to ensure that these workers receive second-class or worse pay, training or benefits, making it extremely clear that Amazon has no regard for these workers when compared to its bottom line. This is wrong.
A warehouse in Pennsylvania literally became a “sweat shop” because the company would not buy air conditioning even when temperatures spiked past 100 degrees in the boiling summer heat. It wasn’t until the media brought to the public's attention that workers were collapsing from heat exhaustion, and caravans of ambulances were literally being parked outside the warehouse to carry collapsing workers to the hospital, that Amazon.com took action. The public pressure that resulted from these investigations finally forced Amazon into installing air conditioning.
An Amazon.com warehouse in Nevada hires temporary workers for the holiday season and offers an unusual "perk" to the transitory workforce: the chance to camp out in the desert heat on the side of an interstate highway.
Amazon uses threats of termination as its motivation to warehouse workers. Quotas are king while workers hustle from station to station dodging forklifts and other machinery, at their peril, to keep the exhausting pace set by the management. If one worker doesn’t work at breakneck speed, Amazon just gets another one.
Amazon doesn't appear to question its production quotas, even when workers are fleeing in droves from exhaustion: the only priority for Amazon is the speed that the packages are moved at the lowest possible price. The cost to its workforce, from the low pay, the unsafe conditions, or the rocketing turnover, is clearly of no importance. The quota is all.
What makes all of these reports about Amazon's secret homegrown sweatshops is that it's not like Amazon is forced into these practices because it is struggling to survive. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos is worth billions of dollars. Amazon has been so lucrative for him that he is putting together a space shuttle to fly tourists into space. Yet, Amazon treats its workers to desert heat, long work hours, limited breaks, low pay and unsafe and unkind production quotas designed for machines not humans? If Amazon’s CEO can afford to fling millionaires into space for a weekend holiday it can afford to treat its workers right.