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Focus: Distribution/Materials Handling

Feature Article from Our Distribution and Materials Handling Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

Sept, 26 , 2011

Logistics News: in Hot Corner after Reports of Sweltering DCs, "Urgently" Buys $2.4 Million in Air Conditioners

Local Newspaper Story in Allentown Says DC Workers Encountered Health Issues in 100-Degree Temperatures, Creates Internet Furor; Amazon Says Employee Health Top Concern


SCDigest Editorial Staff

On-line retail giant found itself is a real hot corner this week, after an article in the local newspaper in Allentown, PA web found that working conditions at an Amazon distribution center there were at times approaching if not at third world conditions, causing the company to announce last week it had spent $2.4 million to "urgently" install air conditioning systems in four DC centers, including the DC complex in Allentown.

SCDigest Says:

In a public statement, Amazon said it is spending $2.4 million dollars "urgently" installing - that's the word it used - new air conditioning systems at four US distribution centers, including the one in Allentown.
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The hubbub started when Allentown's Morning Call published a story last week based on interviews it said it conducted with about 20 employees of the DC 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 problem.

It turns out that in June, a local emergency room doctor, after seeing a number at employees of 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, supported by pay stubs and other documents to verify employee status, included one from a security guard who reported seeing pregnant employees suffering in the heat.

In addition to the heat in the DC, employees 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 the temporary staffing agency Integrity Staffing Solutions, pay something like $11-12.00 per hour for the temporary spots. Some of the temps are ultimately given 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, [interviewees] 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, the company said it is spending $2.4 million dollars "urgently" installing - that's the word it used - new air conditioning systems at four US 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."

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."

(Distribution/Materials Handling Story Continues Below)


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Amazon's statement also said that "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."


The original article quotes one DC worker as saying the extreme heat made him "light headed" at times, and that his legs cramped, symptoms he never experienced in previous warehouse jobs. One hot day, the workers said he saw a co-worker pass out at the water fountain. On other hot days, he claimed "paramedics brought people out of the warehouse in wheelchairs and on stretchers."


What's your take on this story on working conditions in the Amazon Allentown DC? Are DC conditions like this common practice? Is something wrong here? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

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