Heat exhaustion, lightheadedness, dehydration and other problems afflicted employees at Amazon’s warehouses around the United States this summer, where a steady supply of low-paid temporary workers keeps the packing and shipping lines fully staffed.
Reporters with The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., interviewed 20 current and former workers who offered a behind-the-scenes look at conditions inside the warehouses. They spoke of soaring temperatures that caused some workers to collapse, while managers threatened layoffs if they did not meet the expected production rate. Some hid pain and injuries in order to keep their jobs, which pay $11 or $12 an hour.
The workers interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds, some with years of experience at other shipping plants. Only one employee said the warehouses were a good place to work; many more said it was their worst experience ever. —ARK
The Morning Call:
The supply of temporary workers keeps Amazon’s warehouse fully staffed without the expense of a permanent workforce that expects raises and good benefits. Using temporary employees in general also helps reduce the prospect that employees will organize a union that pushes for better treatment because the employees are in constant flux, labor experts say. And Amazon limits its liability for workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance because most of the workers don’t work for Amazon, they work for the temp agency.
... The situation highlights how companies like Amazon can wield their significant leverage over workers in the bleak job market, labor experts say. Large companies such as Amazon can minimize costs for benefits and raises by relying on temporary workers rather than having a larger permanent workforce, those experts say.
“They can get away with it because most workers will take whatever they can get with jobs few and far between,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers. “The temp worker is less likely to complain about it and less likely to push for their labor rights because they feel like they don’t have much pull or sway with the worksite employer.”
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According to Forbes magazine, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the 30th richest person in the world, with a net worth of more than $18 billion.