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Every child had a pretty good shot To get at least as far as their old man got.
September 20, 2011 6:35 AM   Subscribe

"I never felt like passing out in a warehouse and I never felt treated like a piece of crap in any other warehouse but this one," Goris said. "They can do that because there aren't any jobs in the area."
The Allentown newspaper The Morning Call investigates life inside of one of Amazon's newest warehouses.

"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."
posted by Toekneesan (271 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
So many things wrong with this story, so I guess I'll just sum up: You know how when anyone brings up unions and they are shouted down because conditions aren't as bad as they used to be so we don't need unions anymore? Yeah.
posted by DU at 6:43 AM on September 20, 2011 [117 favorites]


Wow, good on The Morning Call for covering this story. Seems pretty rare (at least, I think it is) for a small local paper to take on a major company like Amazon. This kind of old-fashioned, grass roots reportage on the local level is a very positive thing, and hopefully bodes well for the freedom of an increasingly corporate-owned press in America.

And this is definitely gonna make me think twice about ordering from Amazon. Actually, it's gonna make me STOP ordering from Amazon. I don't want to support this kind of treatment of the labor force. It's disgusting and unacceptable.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:46 AM on September 20, 2011 [43 favorites]


They should talk to their shop steward. They have one, right?
posted by bonehead at 6:47 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Incredible article, very well written and thoroughly researched. Definitely makes a strong case that these ex-employee complaints are more than just the sour grapes of those who got fired. I'll rethink buying things from Amazon anytime soon. For a lot of items though, what worries me is that any other online retailer may have a warehouse overseas where conditions may be much worse and even less regulated.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:47 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Holy shit.

On June 10, an OSHA worker heard the following message on the agency's complaint hotline from an emergency room doctor at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest: "I'd like to report an unsafe environment with a[n] Amazon facility in Fogelsville … Several patients have come in the last couple days with heat-related injuries."

Does this happen with other companies? Even a little? The bit about Amazon refusing to open loading dock doors to let air circulate because they worry about theft is horrific. And the response to OSHA from site "safety" manager Allen Forney doesn't fit the other reported facts at all.

Yeah, I'm done with Amazon orders (and I use them often) until I hear that this has gotten better. From someone other than Amazon.
posted by mediareport at 6:48 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh and the specific use of paramedics and local hospitals instead of air conditioners sounds a lot like the WalMart system of deliberately underpaying employees to effectively suck money out of the local community social support system.
posted by DU at 6:48 AM on September 20, 2011 [29 favorites]


Un-fucking-real.
posted by yerfatma at 6:50 AM on September 20, 2011


"On June 2, a warehouse employee contacted OSHA to report the heat index hit 102 degrees in the warehouse and 15 workers collapsed."

15? The fuck?
posted by PenDevil at 6:50 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


You'd think they were union thugs, the way they're demanding cushy benefits like air conditioners!
posted by desjardins at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2011 [39 favorites]


Good for the paper exposing this. Hopefully there's a follow-up with news of changes.
posted by michaelh at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2011


The bold new American century: capitalism without consequence. If the trend continues to bust unions, deregulate industries and lower employer health coverage, this will just spiral further and further.
posted by Theta States at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


You can contact Amazon (FWIW) here. I sent a short note asking what they're doing to rectify the situation since I can't be ordering from them with things like that. No idea if it'll make any difference, but if a number of people do the same, they'll at least have to consider the issue.
posted by yerfatma at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2011 [19 favorites]


Web-order fulfillment; it's the new coal mines!
posted by clvrmnky at 6:56 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


They should talk to their shop steward.

But the union people crawled away.
posted by three blind mice at 6:57 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


They don't even mention the kids who lose fingers when they crawl under the machinery to fetch the bobbins.
posted by crunchland at 7:01 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have lurked on metafilter for years, but never ponied up the $5 to post. I was excited when I saw this post because I feel that I can contribute if anyone has any questions.

I worked at this warehouse from May to July of this year. I took a part time job working 10 hour shifts on weekends through the ISS temp agency. My wife has been staying home with our daughter and I was looking for an opportunity to make some extra money.

Every weekend they promised that they were going to get some sort of air conditioning. The day I left in the middle of July they were making an attempt to install a makeshift temporary unit. I left at the first break as the heat was unbearable on the second floor.

The experience definitely soured me on purchasing from Amazon, though I had the suspicion that this had a lot to do with the management at this specific facility.
posted by dayton2600 at 7:02 AM on September 20, 2011 [146 favorites]


Well, I'm done with Amazon for the time being and I sent them a note stating the reason. Oh, and I'm passing the word to my peers. I wonder if we'll get any answers from them.
posted by hat_eater at 7:04 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I sent a short note asking what they're doing to rectify the situation since I can't be ordering from them with things like that.

Did you say "rectify"? Because I said "rectify" as well.

They're going to think it's a movement...
posted by steambadger at 7:04 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Amazon warehouses would seem to actually present a great opportunity for organization. There business model requires them to keep their warehouses in the US, so they can't easily outsource those jobs to bust a union.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:05 AM on September 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


"The safety and welfare of our employees is our No. 1 priority at Amazon, and as the general manager, I take that responsibility seriously,"

I'd ask how this person sleeps at night, but I suspect the answer is "on a pile of money."
posted by 1adam12 at 7:06 AM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Well we're living here in Allentown
And they're closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line.

Well our brother fought the Second Gulf War
Spent their evenings watching Jersey Shore
Met our mothers at the USO
Asked them to dance
Danced with them slow
And we're living here in Allentown.

But the restlessness was handed down
And it's getting very hard to stay

Well we're waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved.

So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron or coke,
Chromium steel.

And we're waiting here in Allentown.
But they've taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled away

Every child had a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got.
If something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our face, oh oh oh.

Well I'm living here in Allentown
And it's hard to keep a good man down.
But I won't be getting up today.

And it's getting very hard to stay.
And we're living here in Allentown.



Wow -- only had to change three words.
posted by bpm140 at 7:08 AM on September 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


Wouldn't it cost less money to just air condition the place instead of hiring an ambulance to be on standby?
posted by cirrostratus at 7:08 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I just sent them feedback on the page yerfatmama linked to. Not one more dime from me until I hear they've fixed this, and made certain all of their order fulfillment locations have safe conditions and fair labor practices. Boyoctt is go, motherfuckers.

I really liked ordering from Amazon. I should have been suspicious of anyone with a near-monopoly. Robber barons need to be drop-kicked back to the 19th century where they belong.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:09 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Thanks for your suggestion about ventilating at our warehouses. Customer feedback like yours is very important in helping us continue to improve our website and services.

I appreciate your thoughts, and I'll be sure to pass your suggestion along. I'm truly sorry, and I hope you'll give us another chance in the future. We hope to see you soon.

Thank you for your recent inquiry. Did I solve your problem?


Dunno. Did you install a bunch of air conditioners in the Allentown warehouse in the last five minutes?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:10 AM on September 20, 2011 [86 favorites]


What a great piece of reporting. Unfortunately OSHA has really been remiss in dealing with heat safety issues generally, even though heat lamps are now being used as weapons against picket lines on hot days. I don't think people take heat as seriously as they should—I am reminded of Eric Klinenberg's book Heat Wave in which he documents the denial in the Chicago city government during a heat wave in which hundreds of people died and they had to bring in refrigerated trucks to deal with all the bodies at the morgue.
posted by enn at 7:10 AM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


Frankly, I'm sort of surprised they need to hire anyone at all to work in an Amazon warehouse. I would have thought it would be 99% computer automation.
posted by crunchland at 7:11 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every weekend they promised that they were going to get some sort of air conditioning. The day I left in the middle of July they were making an attempt to install a makeshift temporary unit. I left at the first break as the heat was unbearable on the second floor.

Thanks for taking the time to sign up and comment here. Welcome!

Was the facility managed by Amazon, or some third party? If a third party, do you recall the name?
posted by odinsdream at 7:11 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There had been an employee that was arrested for stealing around $30,000 in merchandise that he was selling on ebay. I think that is why they refused to open the loading doors.

In order to leave the facility you must go through metal detectors. You are not allowed to bring any personal items in such as cell phones. They claimed the reason was that they sell phones and it could lead to theft.
posted by dayton2600 at 7:12 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The facility is managed by Amazon. There is separate ISS management that is supposed to interface directly with the temp workers.
posted by dayton2600 at 7:13 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone declining to send money to Amazon could tithe a portion of the money they saved to The International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union. They don't seem to have a local in PA, though, and maybe I've chosen the wrong guys.
posted by DU at 7:14 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


They claimed it would cost millions of dollars to air condition the place.
posted by dayton2600 at 7:15 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]



There had been an employee that was arrested for stealing around $30,000 in merchandise that he was selling on ebay. I think that is why they refused to open the loading doors.


Folding Security Dock Door Gates
posted by mikelieman at 7:15 AM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Random thoughts:

1) I don't know how it is in the US, but in the UK there are few legal allowances for hot working conditions, but plenty for cold working conditions.

2) If I'm going to buy electrical equipment, then despite the horrendous working conditions & frequent deaths for the people mining the various raw materials that go into that product & the appalling working conditions suffered by the adults and children that actually assemble those items, what I really care about is the fact that white people in a first world country may have to work ten hour shifts in warehouses where the temperature can get as high as 105. Quel Horreur.

3) As angry as people may be about this, it's never going to stop them buying shit from the cheapest possible source. This applies to the people hiring workers to the people making warehouses to those that actually buy items from those warehouses. It's nice to see the stirrings of socialism here, but my bet is that as soon as you realise you can't afford to ethically source your Mad Men DVD's, you'll be back banging on Amazon's door.
posted by seanyboy at 7:15 AM on September 20, 2011 [26 favorites]


Yeah, looks like the ILWU is mostly the west coast. Maybe just AFL-CIO.
posted by DU at 7:16 AM on September 20, 2011


Come on, people. You can't run a sweat shop without sweat.
posted by crunchland at 7:17 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I also wrote Amazon to ask what they are doing, and also plan to not shop there until I hear about some action being taken to fix the situation.

On the other hand, isn't this what comes with super-cheap prices? I love shopping at Amazon because it's so cheap. Isn't this the result of those low prices? This is an honest question. If we want livable wages and decent treatment, won't it cost us more?
posted by staggering termagant at 7:17 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hopefully there's a follow-up with news of changescharges.
posted by klanawa at 7:17 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've also sent email via yerfatma's link. I'll post any reply I get.

No surprise OSHA is useless. Some states have heat-stress laws - which have been fought tooth and nail by the owning classes.
posted by warbaby at 7:19 AM on September 20, 2011


They claimed it would cost millions of dollars to air condition the place.

If it's big enough, I can believe it -- esp. if it wasn't built to be air conditioned, which means that you either pay that cost over time for the energy, or you pay it up front to insulate the building enough to save the running costs.

However, if that building is hitting 115+, that's a lack of ventilation problem. This a much cheaper thing to handle -- exhaust fans and vents to pull air through. While, yes, it's not very comfortable when it's 100 degrees out, it is still vastly better than letting the air bake inside the warehouse.

Better, of course, is you run the fans like mad at night, swapping out the hot air inside with the cooler nighttime air, then seal up the building during the heat of the day. Anybody who's lived in the south with a house exhaust fan can tell you that while it isn't as good as A/C, it does keep the house temps well below outside during the day, which is what counts.
posted by eriko at 7:19 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Wouldn't it cost less money to just air condition the place instead of hiring an ambulance to be on standby?

Probably not. The cost to provide air-conditioning for troops in Afghanistan now hits multiple billions a year.

In an office you're cooling down an area that is quite dense in terms of people/meters^2.

In a warehouse you're cooling down a massive area that has far fewer people than in an equivalent size office. As Amazon/ISS you're 'wasting' electricity cooling merchandise.
posted by PenDevil at 7:21 AM on September 20, 2011


Unfortunately, or fortunately, I would guess just seasonal weather changes are going to 'solve' this problem temporarily real soon. Hopefully it isn't forgotten over the winter.
posted by kingbenny at 7:21 AM on September 20, 2011


Boyoctt is go, motherfuckers.

I really liked ordering from Amazon. I should have been suspicious of anyone with a near-monopoly. Robber barons need to be drop-kicked back to the 19th century where they belong.


That's nice, but when it comes down to it, there's not a lot of efficiency to be gained by not having a physical store. The basic business model for Amazon never really made sense. These working conditions exist because of the low margins Amazon tries to make a profit at *and* the high price of it's stock:
Amazon's founder and CEO, Jeffrey Bezos, keeps climbing the ranks of the world's wealthiest people. Forbes magazine estimated his net worth to be $18.1 billion this year, making him the 30th wealthiest person in the world. That wealth is tied to the value of Amazon stock, which has grown about eightfold to nearly $240 per share over the past five years.
which generates an investor expectation of a certain growth in profit. Once you start to add in all the other ways that Amazon is cheating the system (i.e. avoiding sales tax) it starts to look just like any of the dot-com bubble retailers in terms of viability. Having something delivered to your door is a premium service, but people now expect to save money doing that. I mean, buying from Amazon is convenient, but how much would you pay for that convenience?
posted by ennui.bz at 7:22 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why don't they just spray down the pack-mule-humans with cold water every time they are allowed to go to the feeding trough? Problem solved. I don't mind if my gizmos arrive damp so long as I know none of the slave-primates were hurt.
posted by spicynuts at 7:22 AM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Quit your bitching, you think my goddamn used textbook is going to box itself?!?*

*sarcasm
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:23 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If we want livable wages and decent treatment, won't it cost us more?


If your book is 32% off instead of 34% off, chances are you'll still buy it at Amazon.
posted by Theta States at 7:24 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only way jobs are going to come back to the US is if we slowly-yet-surely reduce working conditions to levels that can compete with their third-world competitors.

Yours truly,
American Business™
posted by Thorzdad at 7:24 AM on September 20, 2011 [23 favorites]


Better, of course, is you run the fans like mad at night, swapping out the hot air inside with the cooler nighttime air, then seal up the building during the heat of the day.

However, I have to assume there is plenty of heat-generating equipment inside the warehouse that will heat it right back up again.
posted by kingbenny at 7:24 AM on September 20, 2011


what I really care about is the fact that white people in a first world country may have to work ten hour shifts in warehouses where the temperature can get as high as 105. Quel Horreur.

All laborers benefit from a strong and unified labor movement and labor organization. One more union warehouse in America means more political muscle for workers in the developing world as labor has more influence over international trade policy.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:25 AM on September 20, 2011 [34 favorites]


However, if that building is hitting 115+, that's a lack of ventilation problem. This a much cheaper thing to handle -- exhaust fans and vents to pull air through. While, yes, it's not very comfortable when it's 100 degrees out, it is still vastly better than letting the air bake inside the warehouse.

Lack of ventilation and lack of insulation and likely design issues. It's all driven by razor thin margins and a "new economy - the old rules don't apply to us" attitude.

No one is sitting out there thinking up ways to shit on workers, they're looking at the bottom line all the way down.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:25 AM on September 20, 2011


Lack of ventilation and lack of insulation and likely design issues. It's all driven by razor thin margins and a "new economy - the old rules don't apply to us" attitude.

You're assuming Amazon intentionally built a badly-designed warehouse. Isn't it more likely they bought one?

The basic business model for Amazon never really made sense.

Right, good one.
posted by yerfatma at 7:28 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


If it's big enough, I can believe it -- esp. if it wasn't built to be air conditioned, which means that you either pay that cost over time for the energy, or you pay it up front to insulate the building enough to save the running costs.

However, if that building is hitting 115+, that's a lack of ventilation problem. This a much cheaper thing to handle -- exhaust fans and vents to pull air through. While, yes, it's not very comfortable when it's 100 degrees out, it is still vastly better than letting the air bake inside the warehouse.


Oddly enough, I am in a warehouse this very moment. And the temp. has been in the 90's outside this past week.

Of course, I'm in a converted factory being used to house startups and design companies. But still...the cooling solution is to isolate the working areas with low walls and open ceiling then place air conditioners at the junction with the interior hallway. This means the hallways are hot as hell but the smaller, localised working places are comfortable. The cool air sinks and stays trapped in the working area.

There may be other solutions but the fact remains you dont have to cool down an entire warehouse for conditions to be agreeable.
posted by vacapinta at 7:28 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


And, for anybody who suffers from Amazon withdrawal, there's always Powell's.
posted by steambadger at 7:29 AM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


They had big fans that they would point on the packing rows. The fans helped, but were not always available. They set little personal fans at the packing workstations that were powered by AA batteries. I'm not sure what happened to the AC adapters. The batteries were dead after one shift and never replaced.

Management did stress, in the morning and afternoon meetings, the importance of hydration and eating properly. There was a handy chart above the urinal that would tell you by the color of your urine how dehydrated you were and gave recommendations for hydrating. Water, ice pops, fruit, and Gatorade were provided.

I never personally saw anyone pass out, but it was discussed.
posted by dayton2600 at 7:30 AM on September 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


Thanks to yerfatma for the address link. I too sent off a message saying I like inexpensive stuff fast but not at the expense of their warehouse workers. I expect that this facility will suddenly become climate-controlled due to this great publicity, but suspect that other sites may be equally lousy places to work. Man, I would love to do business with a company that doesn't have profit as its sole motivation, but then what kind of idiot would want to start such an enterprise? And how long would it last?
posted by Hobgoblin at 7:30 AM on September 20, 2011


No one is sitting out there thinking up ways to shit on workers, they're looking at the bottom line all the way down.

Yeah, but the reason that's happening is because no one is out there making sure people don't shit on their workers to maximize profit. Without a counterbalancing power, the system gets thrown out of balance and the markets don't respond to what should be the countervailing, self-interested demands of labor.

Just shitting on someone's head while saying, "Sorry, nothing personal, it just makes more sense for me to shit here" does not change the fact that you are shitting on someone else's head.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:30 AM on September 20, 2011 [34 favorites]


Seanyboy writes: As angry as people may be about this, it's never going to stop them buying shit from the cheapest possible source.

Well, so far it's stopping me and a number of other people in this thread. That's not exactly "never".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:31 AM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


The abuse of temp workers is long standing at Amazon. So this isn't just about one warehouse. The high-turnover / bait and switch hiring has been going on for at least ten years. One friend in the downtown Seattle order processing center was told the only way to avoid a layoff was to take a temp job in an Oklahoma warehouse. He took the job and quit after two months. This would have been around 2001 or 2002.

The problem with labor unions is they've stopped organizing. Situations like this make the employer the best organizer you'll ever see. But the chicken-shit, sold-out, suck up AFL-CIO gave up on the working class back in the 1970s. If this depression stretches out another ten years, as it shows all indications of doing, the US will be ripe for industrial union organizing, not this dog-in-a-manger craft union backstabbing.
posted by warbaby at 7:32 AM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


The experience definitely soured me on purchasing from Amazon, though I had the suspicion that this had a lot to do with the management at this specific facility.

Regardless of Amazon's culpability here (and they own the mess at the end of the day), it does look like this is all fairly standard for ISS. ISS is incorporated as a closed company in Delaware, but they're all over the place. If you're into that name & shame sort of thing, the CEO lives in Florida.
posted by yerfatma at 7:36 AM on September 20, 2011


Just shitting on someone's head while saying, "Sorry, nothing personal, it just makes more sense for me to shit here" does not change the fact that you are shitting on someone else's head.

No, my point is that asking Amazon to change their ways re: penny pinching is really asking them to change their whole business model (and by connection the reason for their market capitalization.) Their margins are really thin and that is what drives this. They aren't Walmart where they can change the product to fit their profit model and logistics problems.

The abuse of temp workers is long standing at Amazon. So this isn't just about one warehouse. The high-turnover / bait and switch hiring has been going on for at least ten years. One friend in the downtown Seattle order processing center was told the only way to avoid a layoff was to take a temp job in an Oklahoma warehouse. He took the job and quit after two months. This would have been around 2001 or 2002.

It's not limited to Amazon. There's a reason why you can always get a job in a warehouse.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:37 AM on September 20, 2011


Seriously, albedo, folks. Try a little white paint on your roof.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:40 AM on September 20, 2011 [20 favorites]


...which is also the reason behind the increasing sophistication of fully automated product handling lines and "lights-out" facilities.
posted by aramaic at 7:40 AM on September 20, 2011


Pop a note in your calendar flapjax and tell me if this is still the case in 8 months time.

All laborers benefit from a strong and unified labor movement and labor organization. One more union warehouse in America means more political muscle for workers in the developing world as labor has more influence over international trade policy.

As much as I'd like to believe it, I can't. Labour movements tend to cause an outsourcing of that labour which is deemed too dangerous, difficult or belittling. Wish it wasn't so, but there is nothing in the last century and a half of trade unions that suggests otherwise to me.
posted by seanyboy at 7:42 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The whole temp worker bait-and-switch thing is the other ridiculous part of this story. I wonder how much of our job base is structured in a similar fashion. The way politics is right now, I don't see any desire to improve this from a regulation standpoint. There certainly would be methods to improve it legally, but who's standing up to do so?
posted by odinsdream at 7:43 AM on September 20, 2011


No one is sitting out there thinking up ways to shit on workers, they're looking at the bottom line all the way down.

Did you read the comments on the article? It's depressing and infuriating to see the evidence right there: a large portion of Americans do in fact look for ways to shit on workers, because the alternative is feeling guilty about the great prices they're getting on their shit.

Workers have to be greedy and lazy and unions have to be awful because the alternative is that you're just an asshole for wanting someone to suffer for your free shipping discount.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:46 AM on September 20, 2011 [20 favorites]


My first job out of college I worked in the sales office that was attached to an un-airconditioned manufacturing plant / warehouse space in Atlanta. I don't remember it ever being that miserable out in the plant, and I don't remember the company doing anything special to cool it down. I suspect this is a case or poor design in the building, and there are probably several things Amazon can and should do to improve the environment in the warehouse, without spending a fortune in the process.

I don't seriously expect Amazon to air condition its warehouses. It would cost a fortune, and in PA anyway, would also consume awful lot of electricity that is probably coming from coal. More troubling to me is that the production rates seen to be unreasonable. When you have a 90% attrition you are doing it wrong.

Also, color me surprised that this is not more automated.
posted by COD at 7:48 AM on September 20, 2011


but who's standing up to do so?

Perhaps when the children of lower upper mgmt who are just coming out of expensive colleges spend the next ten years finding only bait and switch temp jobs, the parents who spent all that money to find their own children are the people they've been screwing for 20 years will rise up.
posted by spicynuts at 7:48 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


But the chicken-shit, sold-out, suck up AFL-CIO gave up on the working class back in the 1970s.

May I remind you that it was the chicken-shit, sold-out Democratic Party under Bill Clinton who made China's MFN status permanent. This opened the door to massive direct foreign investment in China and a new source of labor for American companies. Clinton and Democrats also supported NAFTA and GATT - all things that made it easier for companies to export labor from America without penalty and goods into America without tariff.

The Democrats have been no friends of the American working man.

So yeah, blame the unions, but maybe also blame the party of Roosevelt for forgetting about its fundamental commitment to blue collar labor and focusing instead on fringe social issues.
posted by three blind mice at 7:48 AM on September 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


So what you're saying is they can't really afford to do business properly because their business model is dependent on short-changing laborers?

How did all the sophisticated business leader types out there not realize that designing all their business models around short-changing labor would eventually leave the entire labor force (which also overlaps with the majority of their consumer base) running on empty? Did they all just figure we could make enough extra money to sustain their businesses selling junk on eBay?

Labour movements tend to cause an outsourcing of that labour which is deemed too dangerous, difficult or belittling.

No, bad labor movements do that. A true, effective labor movement would recognize that if there are no places elsewhere in the world for capitalists to exploit labor, their local shop has more bargaining power and benefits.

Don't mistake what's happened in US labor since the 70's for what has to happen.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:49 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, that was quick:

"At Amazon, the safety and well-being of our employees is our number one 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.

July 2011 was a highly unusual month and set records for the hottest temperatures during any single calendar month in cities across the East Coast. As a result of the abnormally high temperatures, we took many additional precautions to ensure the safety of our associates including closing our Breinigsville facility three times during the summer heat wave. We also supplemented our cooling systems by placing industrial AC units in all of our East Coast facilities, including Breinigsville. Also, in case associates needed any medical attention, we had our onsite healthcare team immediately available to attend to any needs. We are looking at additional measures we can take in the future, including permanent cooling solutions for our Breinigsville facility."

It seem plenty of people are sending them love letters.
posted by hat_eater at 7:51 AM on September 20, 2011


blame the party of Roosevelt for forgetting about its fundamental commitment to blue collar labor and focusing instead on fringe social issues.

Protectionism is a fringe social issue now?

saulgoodman : I wish you were right. I really do, but in my depressing dystopian worldview all I can see is labor being exploited. And we'll continue to turn our backs on it.
posted by seanyboy at 7:52 AM on September 20, 2011


As much as I'd like to believe it, I can't. Labour movements tend to cause an outsourcing of that labour which is deemed too dangerous, difficult or belittling.

How exactly does Amazon outsource local shipping warehouses? Their entire model is based on having warehouses everywhere in the country to reduce shipping times and rates. What are they going to do, start mailing everything from Bangalore?

This is why stores like Amazon and Wal-Mart are so unbelievably terrified of unions. Because despite the "we can close down and move" threats eventually they are forced with the reality that their model requires a physical presence in a certain area. Unionization would cripple the one threat they can (and are) using here- that they can simply replace you for any reason they desire.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:53 AM on September 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


Man, I would love to do business with a company that doesn't have profit as its sole motivation, but then what kind of idiot would want to start such an enterprise? And how long would it last?

Here you go.

Note that "doesn' have profit as its sole motivation" doesn't necessarily mean "warm and cuddly."
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:57 AM on September 20, 2011


Sure, call the union. That'll fix things right up.

It's difficult for workers to fix a problem like this. Low skill jobs + large pool of willing workers = little bargaining power.

Anyone know the history of the facility? It seems likely the building has been in existence much longer than Amazon. Was this always an issue there?
posted by 2N2222 at 7:57 AM on September 20, 2011


How exactly does Amazon outsource local shipping warehouses?

I was talking generally, but here's a couple of ways Amazon could outsource the labour in local shipping warehouses:

- Robotic logistics.
- Mexico is quite near.
- Streamed media (kindle, etc)
posted by seanyboy at 7:58 AM on September 20, 2011


Pop a note in your calendar flapjax and tell me if this is still the case in 8 months time.

Can't speak for anyone else, but I can assure you it will be every bit the same for me in 8 months time if Amazon hasn't taken clear, visible and verifiable steps to remedy the situation. I'm just not that desperate for anything that they offer, you see, at the rock-bottom lowest possible price, if it means their workers are enduring conditions like these. I refuse to support it.

As an example, there are things that I pay more than the lowest possible price for already, like more expensive food for me and my family (organic and such) which is healthier than the lowest priced food. I'm not in the habit of putting price before everything else, before all other considerations. That's the way I operate, and have for years now. It's not going to change in 8 months.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:59 AM on September 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


2N2222: These are new warehouses.
posted by dayton2600 at 8:00 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


was talking generally, but here's a couple of ways Amazon could outsource the labour in local shipping warehouses:

No, because then they don't have the speed advantage over their competitors that their regional warehouses give them. As I understand it, that's key to their business model: speedy delivery because of their distributed warehouse network.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:01 AM on September 20, 2011


because then they don't have the speed advantage over their competitors that their regional warehouses give them

How does robotic warehouses and an emphasis on streamed media not give a speed advantage?

If "outsource your labour" is being interpreted here purely as "moving jobs to bangalore", you're not really paying attention.
posted by seanyboy at 8:03 AM on September 20, 2011


bmp140: Wow -- only had to change three words.

Not to mention that you left out Billy Joels iconic "CLANK CLANK HOOO HA!".
posted by dr_dank at 8:04 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a Reddit thread on the issue, showing why nothing will be fixed, and why this nation is doomed to revert to third world / 19th century living conditions.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:05 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just received this email back from Amazon after writing them about the story:

Hello,

At Amazon, the safety and well-being of our employees is our number one 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.

July 2011 was a highly unusual month and set records for the hottest temperatures during any single calendar month in cities across the East Coast. As a result of the abnormally high temperatures, we took many additional precautions to ensure the safety of our associates including closing our Breinigsville facility three times during the summer heat wave. We also supplemented our cooling systems by placing industrial AC units in all of our East Coast facilities, including Breinigsville. Also, in case associates needed any medical attention, we had our onsite healthcare team immediately available to attend to any needs. We are looking at additional measures we can take in the future, including permanent cooling solutions for our Breinigsville facility.

Thank you for your feedback. We hope to see you again soon.

posted by photoslob at 8:06 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


And, for anybody who suffers from Amazon withdrawal, there's always Powell's.

Powells isn't really an option outside the US, unfortunately. Now that Book Depository is an Amazon property, if anyone knows of a decent site to buy English-language books in the EU, please share.
posted by cmonkey at 8:07 AM on September 20, 2011


How does robotic warehouses

They can't afford to aircondition one warehouse, but they can afford to equip all of them with sophisticated, fully-automated robotic systems?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:08 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


a lot like the WalMart system of deliberately underpaying employees to effectively suck money out of the local community social support system

But Walmart does it, so that makes it ok.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 8:08 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd think it would not be that difficult to outsource a warehouse. In this case, they could outsource to the next rustbelt county when the locals get too big for their britches. Maybe get local tax breaks, subsidies, etc. Hell, that might be why they located where they are now.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:09 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: "All laborers benefit from a strong and unified labor movement and labor organization. One more union warehouse in America means more political muscle for workers in the developing world as labor has more influence over international trade policy."

I won't go into the specific merits (or lack thereof) of unions, but THIS is false. More organized labor in America means more political muscle for workers in America to push for protectionist measures that hurt developing economies and workers in those economies. A very clear example of this are European / U.S. agricultural subsidies.
posted by falameufilho at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not necessarily status quo vs. air conditioning. According to the workers who had experience in other warehouses, this one might not have been quite so face-melting if they had just opened up the loading dock doors to get some air circulation.
posted by the jam at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Put me on the no-more-Amazon list.

As always, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
posted by swift at 8:11 AM on September 20, 2011


Man, I would love to do business with a company that doesn't have profit as its sole motivation, but then what kind of idiot would want to start such an enterprise? And how long would it last?

Here you go. (ed: link to http://www.ikea.com/ )

Note that "doesn' have profit as its sole motivation" doesn't necessarily mean "warm and cuddly."
posted by Kadin2048
You haven't been paying attention.

I'm disappointed TFA didn't mention whether Allentown gave Amazon any tax-subsidies/inducements to open the warehouse as well. That's the Delaware bugger-thy-neighbor by offering all sorts of freebies to win the business location..
posted by k5.user at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not necessarily falameufilho: that's just what happens when unions are too provincially focused on their own local shop, and don't take the larger, more international perspective organizations like the IWW advocate. If labor sees that the only real source of its political power is solidarity with all laborers in the world, and they channel and use that power effectively, then that's definitely not what has to happen.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:15 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


That said, while not being privy to any actual numbers, I would wager that your average Costco has less profit/sq ft than this Amazon warehouse and is air conditioned to arctic levels.
posted by the jam at 8:17 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Integrity Staffing Solutions"?

Oxymoron check needed please.

I hate how all these jobs are now temporary/contract only. In (my) a perfect world temp agencies only exist to fulfil season temporary demand.
posted by schwa at 8:17 AM on September 20, 2011


- Robotic logistics.

How does automating a warehouse, even if possible in the context of Amazon's specific needs, change that moving it away from a local distribution center would increase shipping times and rates?

- Mexico is quite near.

Mexico is two thousand miles from Allentown.

- Streamed media (kindle, etc)

Again, a completely separate issue from the actual issue here of workers handling quantities of physical product. I don't understand how this and some mythical, unexplained "robot warehouse" addresses the current reality. Amazon's current model- current, not some hypothetical use of future technology to address their future potential product (Kindle and related products only account for 10% of Amazon's revenue as of 2011)- requires a multitude of localized distribution points.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:22 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anyone know the history of the facility? It seems likely the building has been in existence much longer than Amazon. Was this always an issue there?

It seems that Amazon's specific work scenario exacerbates the effects of overheated space. The article goes into detail about their point-based demerit system which encourages employees to work as fast as they can. The target rates aren't adjusted for temperature, and the fact that all the workers are temps further encourages them to avoid even slight slowdowns, as they'll be immediately replaced.
posted by odinsdream at 8:24 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


My first job out of college I worked in the sales office that was attached to an un-airconditioned manufacturing plant / warehouse space in Atlanta. I don't remember it ever being that miserable out in the plant,

This. Not that I condone their labor practices in general, but this particular problem isn't impossible to solve.

My first job (at 13) was on the second floor of agricultural space in SC in the summer. It was never hotter in the shade than outside. Getting it cooler in the shade then out in the sun does not take millions in air conditioning to fix. I don't think it's realistic to expect they'll air condition the whole place, but if they would open the damn dock doors, run some industrial-sized fans, and close a few days out of the year, they can bring the temperature down from the dangerous to the merely unpleasant, without seriously impacting their bottom line. It's the bullshit about keeping the place sealed up that's making people keel over.
posted by tyllwin at 8:25 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


More organized labor in America means more political muscle for workers in America to push for protectionist measures that hurt developing economies and workers in those economies. A very clear example of this are European / U.S. agricultural subsidies.

Agricultural work is exempt from the union protections afforded by federal labor law and is almost totally unorganized, so I'm not sure what you think that example proves.
posted by enn at 8:28 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


...When you have a 90% attrition you are doing it wrong.

I think the attrition is a feature, not a bug.

I'm guessing that an Amazon warehouse picker job is a low skill position with a very shallow learning curve and that Amazon has actually made the decision that it's better to constantly churn this segment of their workforce to keep their costs and worker cohesion (and possible unionization) low.

What's the benefit to Amazon of investing anything in these workers when there are apparently endless waves of replacements lining up outside ISS's offices?

It ain't "right", but when viewed from ruthless corporate accounting perspective it makes logical sense.
posted by de void at 8:29 AM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


More organized labor in America means more political muscle for workers in America to push for protectionist measures that hurt developing economies and workers in those economies. A very clear example of this are European / U.S. agricultural subsidies.

Most protectionist policies are put in place to benefit corporate interests, with labor a distant second in priority. Agricultural subsidies benefit industrial-scale farming concerns, not workers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:29 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


The Jam, I don't believe Costco is a valid comparison. The in-store shopping is well air-conditioned, but they have customers there. What about the warehouses that service their on-line shopping? How are those warehouses maintained?

Just read some of the comments at the article. Makes me sad.
posted by blurker at 8:31 AM on September 20, 2011


On the other hand, isn't this what comes with super-cheap prices? I love shopping at Amazon because it's so cheap. Isn't this the result of those low prices? This is an honest question. If we want livable wages and decent treatment, won't it cost us more?

Sure. I'll pay a buck more on that USB Trackball I was going to order (but not now).

I shop via amazon because they have pretty much everything (now need to hunt through a half dozen sketchy, fly by night web stores to find what I am looking for), I click "buy" and I get what I want in a day or two.

The price isn't that important. It's the incredible convenience they provide that is key to me. If I wanted to nickel & dime things I'd expect to have to lose that convenience & shop around.


Charge us an extra buck and put A/C in all your warehouses Amazon.

(Also registered a complaint on that Amazon Support page… Will be boycotting AMZN until I've heard they're taking the safety & comfort of their warehouse workers seriously)
posted by schwa at 8:32 AM on September 20, 2011


enn: "Agricultural work is exempt from the union protections afforded by federal labor law and is almost totally unorganized, so I'm not sure what you think that example proves."

The example was about protectionism hurting developing economies. I didn't know whether or not subsidies were pushed by labor. My point is that protectionism is part of the organized labor rhetoric and it is extremely prejudicial to developing economies.

Blazecock Pileon: "Most protectionist policies are put in place to benefit corporate interests, with labor a distant second in priority. Agricultural subsidies benefit industrial-scale farming concerns, not workers."

I don't think that's the case in Europe. Subsidies there are in place specifically to protect small farmers. I thought it was the same case in the U.S.
posted by falameufilho at 8:34 AM on September 20, 2011


Most of you asking/joking about the union have missed: these are all temp workers. And speaking as one, we don't have unions.

A lot of temp workers don't get health insurance (I'm extremely fortunate in that I do) or any kind of pension plan or 401K (my agency has one, fortunately). And often, no paid vacations (I haven't had a paid vacation in TEN YEARS -- sure, I can take time off, if I want to lose a weeks' worth of pay).

We'd unionize, but we're all too tired.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on September 20, 2011 [23 favorites]


Man, I would love to do business with a company that doesn't have profit as its sole motivation, but then what kind of idiot would want to start such an enterprise? And how long would it last?

Google. "Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains."

Now, we could argue all day about ways in which Google is secretly evil (let's not go into that derail please), but I think it's significant that they put this in writing in their IPO filing.

Amazon, on the other hand, is absolutely about the bottom line, but they will religiously comply (minimally) with regulations. IMHO this case is a failure of the regulatory apparatus, and that's where ire should be directed.


(Incidentally, you can buy those big security gates on Amazon! They probably have a hundred of them in boxes in the warehouse!)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:43 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even if the warehouse were entirely automated, it can't be good for the merchandise to be in that kind of heat…
posted by mhz at 8:44 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think that's the case in Europe. Subsidies there are in place specifically to protect small farmers. I thought it was the same case in the U.S.

If you listened to the politicians who push for them, you'd think agricultural subsidies all go to help Ma and Pa Kettle plow the north 40. In fact, the vast majority of agricultural business in the US is done by large corporations, and they also get most of the benefits of subsidies.
posted by steambadger at 8:45 AM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


What's the benefit to Amazon of investing anything in these workers when there are apparently endless waves of replacements lining up outside ISS's offices?

One reason that immediately springs to mind is that building employee loyalty can help prevent temptations of theft by the employees.
posted by gyc at 8:45 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Heh, from the New York Times blog post about this:

In a statement Monday, Amazon said, “the safety and well-being of our associates is our number one priority.” It stressed it took emergency actions during the various heat waves, including shutting down the warehouse three times, but did not specifically challenge any of The Call’s extensive reporting.

Investors were undaunted; in the challenging Internet economy, this is the exact way they want companies to be run. On a down day for the market, the retailer’s stock rose $2.39 on Monday to a new high of $241.69, giving Amazon a market value of $110 billion.


(emphasis mine)

So yeah, there's that. Seriously how anyone can think this isn't going to be an increasingly prevalent trend without some pushback is mind-boggling.
posted by tittergrrl at 8:53 AM on September 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


We are looking at additional measures we can take in the future

Dear Amazon,

Please inform me when you have stopped looking at additional measures and have, in fact, finished implementing them. At this point I will feel comfortable purchasing from your company again.

Until then,

A lost customer
posted by radiosilents at 8:56 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Does anyone know whether this is still the best address to send physical mail to Jeff Bezos:


Amazon.com, Inc.
1200 12th Ave., Ste. 1200
Seattle, WA 98144
posted by mojohand at 8:57 AM on September 20, 2011


The bit about Amazon refusing to open loading dock doors to let air circulate because they worry about theft is horrific.

That's why they chained the doors shut at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:57 AM on September 20, 2011 [32 favorites]


If you think this kind of thing is limited to Amazon or to one warehouse in Pennsylvania, please think again. That would be so awesome but in fact, this is just one tiny site that actually got caught in a country where OSHA has long since stopped investigating any but the most obvious and egregious offenders (1, 2, 3). This is the very paradigm of the New American Business Model, and Thorzdad has it right - we are trying to compete with China by becoming China.

1. Congress to consider OSHA reform (ha! ha ha ha! Ha ha! I laugh and then I weep.)

2. OSHA's already laughable budget was cut years ago and hasn't been restored.

3. And more on OSHA's budget woes.

posted by mygothlaundry at 8:57 AM on September 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


Amazon, on the other hand, is absolutely about the bottom line, but they will religiously comply (minimally) with regulations. IMHO this case is a failure of the regulatory apparatus, and that's where ire should be directed.

Absolutely. The OSHA response here is disgraceful.
posted by odinsdream at 8:59 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


> It seems that Amazon's specific work scenario exacerbates the effects of overheated space. The article goes into detail about their point-based demerit system which encourages employees to work as fast as they can.

> We'd unionize, but we're all too tired.

> building employee loyalty can help prevent temptations of theft by the employees.

The heat in July was ghastly on the East Coast. I would venture to guess there are probably a lot of buildings in Allentown not built to cope with the heat and humidity that the area faced, and personally, I'd be willing to extend some benefit of the doubt to Amazon if the story was solely about a company overwhelmed by the logistics of coping with cooling a facility that wasn't built for the extreme temperatures of the past summer. But it's not. It's a story about about those difficulties compounded by labor management practices that fail to treat workers as if they have value, from not adjusting their output expectations in extreme conditions to using a temp company rather than hiring workers directly. These are not problems that will be addressed by fans and ice pops.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:59 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Absolutely. The OSHA response here is disgraceful.

Your smaller, better government at work, America!
posted by saulgoodman at 9:00 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Hello,

I just read an article in The Morning Call about labor conditions at your Lehigh Valley warehouse, and needless to say I'm appalled. I know I'm not a huge customer of yours or anything, but I'd like to inform you that I will not be ordering anything from you until this situation is rectified.

Constantly burning through temp workers is a terrible practice, and it hurts people who might otherwise be able to afford to buy products and services. Labor laws exist for a reason; they benefit workers and—even though it may seem counter intuitive—the companies that employ them.

You provide a useful service, and I think it's a shame that I won't be purchasing anything from you. I hope that you guys get on top of this soon.

—Jordan Byrd
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:00 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


That's why they chained the doors shut at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

First thing I thought of when I read the article.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:01 AM on September 20, 2011


k5.user: You haven't been paying attention.

That was my point, actually -- that just because a company is motivated by something other than profit and a need to enrich stock owners, as IKEA is, doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be nice to its workers or anything else. While removing the profit motive might help, it isn't a panacea; a company could be just as ruthless in the pursuit of other goals besides profit.

You need to set the bar higher than simply "not about profit" if you want ethical business behavior. (And also, I don't think that ethical behavior is incompatible with profit-seeking entirely.)

But back to Amazon ... they actually own some robotic warehouses. Diapers.com was heavily automated prior to the acquisition by AMZ, so unless they've taken it apart they have at least one.

Most of the robotic-warehousing systems don't replace humans on the warehouse floor completely, but they do reduce them. Humans still do the packing work, but they do it from a single spot in the warehouse -- the robots do the picking. There doesn't seem to be any fundamental reason why you couldn't automate the packing as well, so I assume that it's just the current labor/capital tradeoff that prevents it from being economical.

It wouldn't surprise me if Amazon's long-term strategy assumes significant warehouse automation. The current setup is pretty dependent on low-cost labor, and that depends on a very slack labor market. If unemployment wasn't as high as it is, they wouldn't be able to get away with the shit they're pulling; but it is and they are, and I suspect they'll continue to do so until the underlying economics change.

This is what life in a slack labor market is like, and it's why unemployment needs to be the top political priority until it's fixed.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:02 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I'm going to buy electrical equipment, then despite the horrendous working conditions & frequent deaths for the people mining the various raw materials that go into that product & the appalling working conditions suffered by the adults and children that actually assemble those items, what I really care about is the fact that white people in a first world country may have to work ten hour shifts in warehouses where the temperature can get as high as 105.

This is a pretty sixth-form argument, do you not think? Compassion and outrage are not zero-sum; just because there are people with cranial injuries shouldn't mean that I'm irritated by having a headache right now.

It's frustrating, though, as other than dropping off the grid pretty much everything we do has an impact on someone, somewhere. There's nothing wrong with taking some steps to change what we can change. Also, what makes you think they're white? Warehouse work in the UK is often done by first-generation immigrants, who are not allowed to speak their first language, or illegal immigrants, historically from the Indian sub-continent, who lack the language skills to speak out about their situation.
posted by mippy at 9:03 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


"The safety and welfare of our employees is our No. 1 priority at Amazon, and as the general manager, I take that responsibility seriously,"

Then why the hell are you building unventilated warehouses? This is a problem that was solved a hundred years ago. There is no excuse for putting up a building that is effectively an oven. Fix it. Meanwhile, take this seriously: Amazon is not the only source for anything it sells. Until you stop deriving your profits from the inhumane exploitation of my fellow citizens, I will be using other sources.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:04 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Also, what makes you think they're white?

It's Pennsylvania.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:06 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Does anyone know whether this is still the best address to send physical mail to Jeff Bezos:

Amazon.com, Inc.
1200 12th Ave. S, Ste. 1200
Seattle, WA 98144


Needs "south" on the street name. He's not in that building anymore, but it will probably get to him.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:08 AM on September 20, 2011


but it will probably get to him

... by which I mean it will get to an underling who will send you a form letter response.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:09 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


So Amazon uses an agency to save on workman's comp and unemployment claims, which I do not entirely understand. If you are injured on the job, don't you get compensation whoever the employer is? Doesn't the agency take this into consideration when they decide how to charge Amazon? Same with unemployment benefits.
posted by jeather at 9:14 AM on September 20, 2011


That's why they chained the doors shut at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

Dang. Beat me to it.
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:18 AM on September 20, 2011


"On June 2, a warehouse employee contacted OSHA to report the heat index hit 102 degrees in the warehouse and 15 workers collapsed."

15? The fuck?


Yeah, but Amazon's lawyer says it was only 15 out of 1,600, so, you know, acceptable losses.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:21 AM on September 20, 2011


So Amazon uses an agency to save on workman's comp and unemployment claims, which I do not entirely understand. If you are injured on the job, don't you get compensation whoever the employer is? Doesn't the agency take this into consideration when they decide how to charge Amazon? Same with unemployment benefits.

It's pretty much outsourcing HR. The temp agency is going to have a lot more experience (and more efficiency) fighting workman's comp and unemployment claims than Amazon does.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:22 AM on September 20, 2011


Bezos also fought against the Washington State initiative to create a state income tax for those earning over $200,000 a year. Washington State doesn't have an income tax, instead using a high sales tax, which adversely impacts the poor more.

Once you start to add in all the other ways that Amazon is cheating the system (i.e. avoiding sales tax) it starts to look just like any of the dot-com bubble retailers in terms of viability.

Amazon may engage in ethically and socially questionable business practices, but dot-com bubble they are not. Bezos has always been a long-term thinker, and long before the whole "Cloud" buzzword took over, he was laying out his plan to utilize Amazon's considerable network and technology expertise to provide web services. Even as investors were punishing him for this and thinking it was a bad idea. Dot-com companies usually don't have that long-term vision.

Not that it excuses any of this behavior. If Amazon was just a dot-com bubble retailer I wouldn't be as worried. It's the fact that they're a retail and Internet juggernaut that makes these actions worrisome.

But it looks like the tide may be turning in their sales tax battle with states.
posted by formless at 9:32 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think that's the case in Europe. Subsidies there are in place specifically to protect small farmers. I thought it was the same case in the U.S.

European agricultural subsidies are purportedly in place for that reason, but who are the biggest beneficiaries?

(Also, the levels of US and EU agricultural subsidies are broadly comparable. It isn't as if this was a EU thing.)
posted by Skeptic at 9:40 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The government should buy out Amazon and integrate it into the Postal Service. Bam, two birds with one stone.

At the very least, the Amazon Marketplace website should be a public service provided by the government, or could at least serve as a model for one.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:45 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's why they chained the doors shut at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

If theft by workers is such a serious issue, meaning that the risk/benefit ratio for workers is such that they are ready to put their jobs at risk by stealing from their employer, it's a sign that their salaries are too low. Henry Ford (not the most left-wing of industrialists) had a point when he said that he wanted his workers to be able to afford one of his cars.
posted by Skeptic at 9:45 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I just got the form letter back. My response:
Look, I know you guys probably have a lot of complaints to get through. I understand that you need to use a form letter to respond to most of these, but you only addressed half of my complaint.

Hiring underpaid temps to handle jobs with a shallow learning curve might make sense in the short term, but it's going to bite you in the ass eventually.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:51 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Want more of this? Vote Republican.
posted by Sparkticus at 9:52 AM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Or you could just vote for Obama, and get the same result.
posted by crunchland at 9:56 AM on September 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


No one president--especially one whose own party refuses to support his agenda again and again because they're either craven sellouts, strategic morons or worse--is going to save us, and the Republicans are hell-bent on doing much, much worse.

We have to take matters into our own hands, and we have to work at the primary level to get better candidates to congress. We needed more Dems--better and more Dems--after the mid-terms to see any better results. What we did instead was guarantee failure, because the body of the legislature that sets the agenda is now in the hands of a party that would probably literally let the entire country burn down if they thought it would improve their election prospects.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:05 AM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Because they think we're too stupid not to see how dumb it is to blame everything on the one guy out of all the thousands in Washington who doesn't actually have the power to make law.

The Left's focusing so much of its attentions on Bush--who was really just an empty suit for the Washington conservative political establishment--was a mistake, insofar as it encouraged that kind of wrong-headed thinking about how our political system works.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:09 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thorzdad: The only way jobs are going to come back to the US is if we slowly-yet-surely reduce working conditions to levels that can compete with their third-world competitors.

Yours truly,
American Business™


That can't be the real American Business talking, or they'd also mention regulations. It would be so much easier if we could go back to using CFCs for refrigeration. And to sell products without all that attention to details, such as how much toxic materials were used to make your kid's new doll so shiny and bright, or your nonperishables stay so nonperished. Caring about workers is only one of the things that's bringing the US down.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:10 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Craft-union backstabbing? That's what's killing unions? I really fucking resent that idea. You're not in a union and you've never respected a picket line, I'm guessing.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 10:23 AM on September 20, 2011


If you're interested in addressing the sales tax issue, I'll share an email I received from the indie nearest to where I live just this morning:

We're calling on all booklovers and fans of hometown businesses.

We need your help in the fight for sales tax fairness

As one state after another has lost the sales tax battle with Amazon, efforts have been revived to have the Federal government address the issue. We are asking our loyal customers to contact their congressmen and women to support S. 1452, the Main Street Fairness Act, introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) this past summer. This same legislation was previously introduced by Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY), underscoring that this is that rare issue that has bipartisan support.

Call, email, fax or write your legislators and urge them to support this bill that will help level the playing field for small businesses. Stop the unfair advantage of etailers who undercut your local merchants with lower prices that are partly the result of their ability to ignore their tax responsibilities. Let's not wait until the last small business closes to realize and rue what we've lost. Local businesses support local communities; they help pay for roads, schools, police & fire protection, parks and a thousand other things that add to the life of a community.

Amazon, in particular, has invested a huge amount of money to fight states that have the nerve to expect them to do their civic duty and give back to the communities that support them. They have bribed states, promising to build warehouses that will employ thousands of people (part-time, minimum wage, no benefits) if they can have a pass on the taxes. But, even they say they support the Main Street Fairness Act.

In this very challenging economic climate, let's make sure independents have a fair chance to stay in business, offering what they offer so well; friendly, personal service and a commitment to the community.

We urge you to call, e-mail, fax or write your Senators in support of Sen. Durbin's Main Street Fairness Act.

Thank you for your help in leveling the playing field and supporting local small businesses.

Sincerely,
The Staff at Ottos

PS You can find the contact information for your Senators & Representatives at
www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.


The folks at Otto's are amazing. I drive over 50 miles several times a year just to shop there. If you're looking for a book, consider buying it from them instead. Betsy, who inherited the store from her father and employs her children and grandchildren among others, is a bibliographic treasure. You may not get as big a discount but at least they have air conditioning.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:27 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Color me unsurprised at the price of Amazon's "low costs."
Cheap books are easy on our wallets, but behind the scenes publishers large and small have been deeply undercut by the rise of large retailers and predatory pricing schemes.

I work at an independent bookstore in an area that's pretty indie-friendly. We sell our new books at the listed price, because the 40% typical publisher discount we get off that price is all the money we get to pay our bills: local taxes, local utilities, building rent to the local landlord, wages to the local employees who all live nearby, whatever. I keep using the word "local" because most of the money we make stays here.

I love my job. But every single day I get customers whom I'll spend 20+ minutes helping them track down their needed book ("It has a red cover! I think it has 'America' in the title?"). Then when I bring them the book at the register, they say, "Oh no, that's okay, I can get it cheaper on Amazon. Could you write down the name for me so I can remember it?"

I never know whether to laugh or cry or slap them in the face, so I usually just write the title down. I know everybody's struggling to make ends meet, but it's incredibly disheartening. I want a better way to ask those people to think about how much the great Amazon bargain they'll be getting is worth built on business practices like in this article. If you're not paying the price, someone else is.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:27 AM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


I worked in a cardboard box factory in Indiana for a while, until my hands got too cut up, not good for a piano player. I was a temp. They used to be located in Ohio, but they moved across the border to get the union off their back. One guy lost his arm in a machine. They rewarded him with a lifetime job! What's my point? You can treat temporary workers however you want; they are obviously willing to work anywhere as long as they get a paycheck.

Oh, by the way, I'm in on the boycott, too, and have informed Amazon. I hope we can get reliable information back, instead of form letters/email.
posted by kozad at 10:39 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This story is making me ill.

I'm definitely refraining from buying anything from Amazon until they seriously address this bs.

This is one of the reasons I so despise the Kindle. It's designed to undercut and usurp the publishers so Amazon can slash and burn more of the Publishing world like it was the Amazon.

I don't trust Bezos and this company. Period.
posted by Skygazer at 10:39 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this. I order stuff from Amazon all the time.

I sent them an e-mail at the page that yerfatma posted above. I haven't heard back yet. I'll post again when I do.

That story about Bezos campaigning to stop the state of Washington from implementing income tax on high income earners is sickening. Especially from a company that has fought against paying sales tax, and high sales taxes are the only way that Washington is able to function without income taxes. Ugh!! I always found Bezos to be so warm and likable whenever I saw/heard him interviewed. How disappointing...
posted by marsha56 at 10:41 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Diapers.com was heavily automated prior to the acquisition by AMZ, so unless they've taken it apart they have at least one.

Oh that's right! As well as Zappos.com

I have spent a fortune at Diapers.com over the last 3 years and this is infuriating. FUCK YOU AMAzon. I'll dish out my 100 bucks a month somewhere else and I personally know lots of new dads and moms who're going to join in with me on boycotting your slaveship online stores.
posted by Skygazer at 10:44 AM on September 20, 2011


How about lowering production goals on the days the heat is extreme?

I worked in a neiman marcus inbound call centre over christmas one year. The amazon corporate culture described in this article made me recall the worst elements of that neiman marcus job. Your job performance was constantly monitored and the supervisors used a specific ring tone when they were calling to reprimand you about how long you were taking with each call. That ring tone made everyone cringe. I was "spoken" to twice at that job (hadn't happened before or since at any other job). I can't imagine the stress of having a "pep" talk at the beginning of every shift where your job is threatened every day.
posted by Gwynarra at 10:54 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately mippy, it is a zero sum game. You can accuse me as much as you'd like of "making sixth form arguments" but compare the anger expressed here in comparison to similar stories about terrible conditions in Asia or Africa.

Your latest fondle-slab built on the blood of Chinese and Africans - That's bad, but look at the shiny colours. Working conditions slightly intolerable in a western country "Grar, grar, we'll never buy from you again.".

The "Compassion is not a zero sum game" line is great to trot out at times like this, but evidentially it's just not true.

Unfortunately, I'm as bad at doing this as everyone else. Much as I hate myself for it, I seem to care more about Americans than I do about people who geographically (but not culturally) are closer to me.
posted by seanyboy at 10:59 AM on September 20, 2011


Dear Amazon,

I generally like Amazon — I like the low prices and free shipping. I like the incredible variety of products available. I had planned several purchases in the next couple of months, from a new french press to a new laptop.

But I also like workers, and the American way of life. Which is why I was so disappointed when I heard about conditions in your Lehigh Valley, Pa. warehouse, as detailed in this story by the Morning Call: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-allentown-amazon-complaints-20110917,0,7937001,full.story

It shows me several things: First, that Amazon is exploiting its workforce, or, more specifically, exploiting the temporary workforce. It shows that Amazon is engaging in unsafe working conditions, draconian discipline and a general failure of management to treat workers with respect and care.

So, until these problems are resolved, I feel unable to support Amazon in any way, including making my purchases through you. And unfortunately, through the official statements made in the story, it's clear that Amazon can't be trusted to accurately report the conditions it requires of its workers, so I won't be able to shop at Amazon until there is an independent news agency that reports an improvement in conditions at Amazon's warehouses, or when I hear that Amazon's Lehigh Valley warehouse is organized and unionized.

I hope I hear these things soon — as I mentioned, I do appreciate Amazon. But I just can't know that saving me a dollar comes at the cost of heat stroke and brutal conditions. It's not right, and I hope you can understand that.

Thanks,

Klang Klangston*

*Used real name
posted by klangklangston at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]



We'd unionize, but we're all too tired.


This says everything about America ... they've worn us down. This is not an exaggeration nor a call to arms. The future just looks bleak.
posted by Surfurrus at 11:01 AM on September 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


Your parents really named you Klang? What were they space hippies?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:05 AM on September 20, 2011


For Costco's employees, however, it's a different story. Employees who belong to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters worked closely with the company to negotiate wage and benefits packages that are among the highest in the retail industry.


posted by Danf at 11:13 AM on September 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Seriously, albedo, folks. Try a little white paint on your roof.

I spent my summers through university working in a steel mill where the temperature was usually in the triple digits Fahrenheit night and day. As a crane operator, I was up nice and high, too, where it was toasty indeed. I was also a physics geek and I thought about the albedo of acres of dark grey roof. When I sent a letter to the head office about it, I was told that white did not fit into the branding. I wonder if Amazon does not have a similar view.

This sort of thing contributes to my innate urge to belabour marketing people about the head and shoulders with a truncheon.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:23 AM on September 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Oh, my hell. There goes my Amazon addiction. *sending protest letter*
posted by Space Kitty at 11:24 AM on September 20, 2011


"And a 2004 Business Week study confirmed the wisdom and bottom line economic benefits of this approach. Their findings indicated that Costco employees sell 50 percent more per square foot of sales space, and contribute to profits almost 25 percent higher than Sam's Club."

This is what infuriates me most - businesses are sacrificing growth and profit on the altar of right-wing dogmatism. They will make more money by paying more taxes, they will be wealthier if they give up unreasonable compensation and re-invested in an economy based on middle-class growth. They're not stupid, they know it - which leads me to believe they're evil. They value power over prosperity.

It's like with Greece - pump money into the Euro, cause a small and temporary bump in inflation when it's at record lows, and there is no debt issue. At all. Instead doctrinaire right-leaning governments in the north of the EU have decided to "punish" Greece for suffering through a financial crisis caused by the poorly regulated banks of those same countries! In the meantime, the stock market burns while they play these games.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:31 AM on September 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


...the one guy out of all the thousands in Washington who doesn't actually have the power to make law.

What? Obama is the only guy in Washington who doesn't make law? Geithner makes law? Emmanuel does? Everyone but Obama?

I have been seriously misinformed.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:35 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was just there yesterday. I didn't make a single one.
posted by crunchland at 11:40 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nothing to stop us from responding with a form letter as well.

"Dear sales representative,

Thank you for taking the time to forward me Amazon's corporate statement on this issue. Unfortunately, I do not find this an acceptable response. As a regular customer and a shareholder, I will not be satisfied until I see a message on Amazon.com's homepage addressing this issue directly and describing the steps the company has taken to ensure their labor suppliers are not abusing workers.

Thanks,

Whomever"

It's not like they know if you're a shareholder or not. Given how mutual funds work, lots of people may not know they are shareholders. One way to make it sting would be to get someone like CALPERS to ask questions.
posted by yerfatma at 11:46 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Every publicly traded company is going to treat their workers as horribly as they can get away with. Jeff Bezos may or may not be evil, but the company, by law, has to act in the best interest of the shareholders. There's really only three ways to combat this: 1) increased government regulation & enforcement; 2) organized labor; 3) decrease people's love of money. History has shown over and over and over again that expecting people to be selfless when money is involved just Does. Not. Work. You have to make it in people's best interests to "be good" or the majority will not do it if it costs more.

seanyboy has a point that most people do not want to think about: we are all complicit in worker mistreatment because we're all posting from electronic devices. We're not standing over a Chinese miner with a whip, just like Jeff Bezos isn't directly standing over a Pennsylvania warehouse worker with a whip. But we're both benefiting from their mistreatment; it's just a matter of degree. Let's be intellectually honest about this.
posted by desjardins at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Did you read the comments on the article? It's depressing and infuriating to see the evidence right there:

Maybe the newspaper edited the comments because I just looked and nearly all of them were on the side of the employees and against how amazon was treating them.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:09 PM on September 20, 2011


Dear Amazon,

My name is Andrew Bates, and I'd like to call myself one of your big fans. You've won me over with your low prices and numerous sales. You also got me hooked with the great selection and the extremely fast shipping. In fact, I am extremely grateful of the free year of Amazon Prime offer for students. I was even going to pay the thirty-nine dollars to continue using Prime. It's clear that you truly look out for the customers and seek to give them the best prices. This morning, though, I came across an article online that truly upset me.

As I googled "Amazon" this morning, seeking out the best deals, I came across an article in The Morning Call, the local newspaper for Allentown. The article I stumbled upon was a document of the working conditions of your Allentown warehouse. I'm sure you've received numerous emails, describing the conditions ranging from the brutal and near-fatal heat to the constant push for higher productivity despite the conditions, so I'm not going to repeat them. What I will say is this: I am appalled.

I find it quite shameful that Amazon has stooped so low to exploit workers for the sake of profit, more specifically the temporary ones. I am also horrified to find Amazon so careless with its choices in management. The worst part of all of this is the dishonesty and laziness on your part. It's clear that you can not be trusted to give an honest account of the working conditions and to at least correct them beyond giving them battery operated fans and having paramedics waiting outside.

I find it weird that I found the article right not only right before I was to renew my Amazon Prime account, but as the protests on Wall Street are taking place. The fact is I can no longer support your company at this time. Once I hear word that the conditions have at least improved, I will be more than happy to spend my hard earned cash with you.

Please don't take this the wrong way. I still love Amazon. You've saved me hundreds on movies, textbooks, novels, and various other things. I would just rather have the comfort that Amazon is treating their employees well rather than knowing I saved 2.50 on a Blu-Ray copy of X-Men: First Class.

Sincerely,
Andrew Bates
posted by HermanoBluth at 12:15 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


but the company, by law, has to act in the best interest of the shareholders.

Which has been taken to mean "get them the biggest short-term gains possible", but need not necessarily mean this.
posted by jeather at 12:19 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately mippy, it is a zero sum game.

Funny, that's not what people said when they were pitching globalization.

I have been seriously misinformed.

Well, I meant the whole executive branch, really, as personified in its figurehead (which would include Geithner, etc.). Interestingly the Federal Reserve is basically independent even from the executive and makes its own rules and monetary possible answerable to essentially nobody (not even the president) unless congress makes a special exception.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:25 PM on September 20, 2011


erm, not "possible" but "policy"...
posted by saulgoodman at 12:26 PM on September 20, 2011


More organized labor in America means more political muscle for workers in America to push for protectionist measures that hurt developing economies and workers in those economies.

I get the impression you're taking a more general approach with this statement, but as far as this particular story goes I'm not sure this applies to warehouse jobs.
posted by Hoopo at 12:38 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


But we're both benefiting from their mistreatment; it's just a matter of degree.

Yeah, it's a matter of too many of 'em.

As for the balance, desjardins, there's nothing stopping any of the professed boycotters here from agitating for improved workplace conditions elsewhere. Maybe this story will be a catalyst for wider action. Even if it isn't, nothing wrong with helping to make that part of Pennsylvania a nicer place to work.
posted by notyou at 12:43 PM on September 20, 2011


So I emailed them this morning and here's their reply:
Hello,

At Amazon, the safety and well-being of our employees is our number one 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.

July 2011 was a highly unusual month and set records for the hottest temperatures during any single calendar month in cities across the East Coast. As a result of the abnormally high temperatures, we took many additional precautions to ensure the safety of our associates including closing our Breinigsville facility three times during the summer heat wave. We also supplemented our cooling systems by placing industrial AC units in all of our East Coast facilities, including Breinigsville. Also, in case associates needed any medical attention, we had our onsite healthcare team immediately available to attend to any needs. We are looking at additional measures we can take in the future, including permanent cooling solutions for our Breinigsville facility.

Thank you for your feedback. We hope to see you again soon.

Best regards,

Imran MD.
Amazon.com
Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.
So the spin machine is now engaged.
posted by warbaby at 12:44 PM on September 20, 2011


Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.

Customer-Centric? I was thinking more along the lines of Profit-Centric.

Of course, the workers are the ones paying.
posted by HermanoBluth at 12:47 PM on September 20, 2011


Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.

Perhaps you could ask for it to be ever so slightly more employee-centric?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:49 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I received the same response as hat_eater, photoslob and warbaby.

What gets me is the obvious contradiction: well-being of our employees is our number one priority and Most Customer-Centric Company, all in less than 200 words.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


preview, I hate you.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2011


I just got the same email back that warbaby did. The Customer-Centric bit at the end just pissed me off more.
posted by Killick at 12:53 PM on September 20, 2011


What I'd like to see is the ILWU step in.
posted by warbaby at 12:57 PM on September 20, 2011


I am thoroughly disgusted by what I've read here about Amazon. I've cancelled pending purchases and will cancel my long-time account, too. I look forward to a followup report at the end of next summer.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 12:59 PM on September 20, 2011


Even if it isn't, nothing wrong with helping to make that part of Pennsylvania a nicer place to work.

I agree 100%. I'm just surprised that anyone is surprised that a profit-making company makes profits on the backs of its workers. That's the whole point of the system, and no matter where we buy stuff, be it Amazon or almost anywhere else, we're complicit in it. Boycotting Amazon may help these particular people in this particular warehouse. I hope so.
posted by desjardins at 1:00 PM on September 20, 2011


There is some measure of hope that journalism of this kind still exists, and that it can have this positive effect, regardless of what Amazon does or does not do to resolve this.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:03 PM on September 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


I get the impression you're taking a more general approach with this statement, but as far as this particular story goes I'm not sure this applies to warehouse jobs.

It wasn't even necessarily an accurate picture of why protectionism happens, to begin with.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:11 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Before the dot com bust in 2001, Amazon bought my employer. We got a tour of their Seattle warehouse. One of us asked our tour leader, a warehouse worker, if he was in a union. He smiled and said no, he and his co-workers all felt like owners and were happy, so why would they need a union? I'm paraphrasing, but that was the sentiment - incredulity they'd want to be in a union.

Amazon shut that warehouse down a year or two later to save money. The original Seattle PI link is broken, so here's the Internet Archive copy.

"Besides laying off the 1,300 employees, Amazon will close the distribution center at McDonough in Georgia, which opened in 1999...."

Bonus simultaneous cut: Seattle customer service workers replaced by offshore labor.

"The customer service center in Seattle will be closed.... The company said it is a matter of cutting costs. The Seattle work force is expensive. Much of the customer service work is contracted out to a company in India."
posted by zippy at 1:13 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Every publicly traded company is going to treat their workers as horribly as they can get away with.

Not EVERY publicly traded company. . . .

But Costco's kind-hearted philosophy toward its 100,000 cashiers, shelf-stockers and other workers is drawing criticism from Wall Street. Some analysts and investors contend that the Issaquah, Wash., warehouse-club operator actually is too good to employees, with Costco shareholders suffering as a result.

This is the reason I have a Costco card.
posted by Danf at 1:14 PM on September 20, 2011 [19 favorites]


the company, by law, has to act in the best interest of the shareholders.

People keep saying this, but never actually backing it up. I don't think I've ever seen anyone back it up, even though it gets repeated in every corporate discussion that has ever happened on the Internet.

...as though it were like gravity. Or the existence of heat.

Therefore, and this is not personal, but I am quite serious:

Cite?

(and, when I say "cite" I mean it -- not "well, Keynesian economics demands...". I mean "per CFR 11.334.6.7, subparagraph nine, part five, and I quote.....")
posted by aramaic at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let's examine Amazon' claim that "On June 3, 2011, the Lehigh Valley area experienced unusual, extremely high temperatures."

The temperatures that day, from Weather Underground.

The "extremely high temperatures" that day? 75 F.

Either Weather Underground has bad data, or that warehouse is a human solar cooker.
posted by zippy at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Danf: "This is the reason I have a Costco card."

Amen. A Costco opened up here in Toledo while I was working at Wally World. Almost everyone applied. It was like the gates of Heaven opened up, shining bright upon the wretched ones below, and only a few were able to enter.
posted by charred husk at 1:35 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree 100%. I'm just surprised that anyone is surprised that a profit-making company makes profits on the backs of its workers. That's the whole point of the system, and no matter where we buy stuff, be it Amazon or almost anywhere else, we're complicit in it.

But we also ultimately suffering for it, if what you say is true, so why the hell would we keep supporting it? The missing connection here is that consumer = worker! You can't have capitalism that neglects labor interests without also draining its own consumer pool over the long term. Think about it. It doesn't pass even a basic common sense test to think that way of doing business is sustainable over the long term.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:38 PM on September 20, 2011 [10 favorites]



the company, by law, has to act in the best interest of the shareholders.

People keep saying this, but never actually backing it up. I don't think I've ever seen anyone back it up, even though it gets repeated in every corporate discussion that has ever happened on the Internet.


Personally, I've always thought that the business judgment rule gave companies a lot of discretion as to what it means to act in the best interest of shareholders.
posted by gyc at 1:47 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


As someone mentioned above, this is nothing new. This is SOP at Amazon and has been basically since its inception.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:51 PM on September 20, 2011


Unfortunately, or fortunately, I would guess just seasonal weather changes are going to 'solve' this problem temporarily real soon.

What makes you think that the warehouse is heated?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:51 PM on September 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Interesting aside about another bookstore retailer from warbaby's ILWU link: Mary Winzig and the Powell’s Books organizing drive, 1998-2000.
"Powell's and Local 5 still have the internet-based profit-sharing program established in that first contract. If you go to www.powellsunion.com to order books, 10 percent goes to the workers at no extra cost."
posted by nicebookrack at 1:53 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


People keep saying this, but never actually backing it up. I don't think I've ever seen anyone back it up, even though it gets repeated in every corporate discussion that has ever happened on the Internet.

...as though it were like gravity. Or the existence of heat.


I think it's brought up so often because people misunderstand corporate charters. Consider two corporations.

CEO of Corp. A decides the best way to build a profitable business is by treating its workers fairly, making a quality product, and ensuring customer satisfaction. The CEO makes this case before the board, gets the OK to proceed with the plan, and executes.

CEO of Corp. B decides the best way to build a profiitable business is by getting the lowest cost workers, making the minimum acceptable product, and whitewashing customer complaints.

There's no inherent legal reason for choosing CEO B's approach, since the logical mechanisms for achieving profitability are present in both scenarios.

It may be that people are assuming B is the most likely scenario when taking psychology into account, but I'm not really clear on why people think there's a legal reason for it.

On the anecdotal side, I recently chose to patronize a particular corporation over competitors due to the fact that they've legally organized as socially, ethnically and environmentally responsible, just in case there was any confusion on the matter of profitability versus responsibility. I made it very clear to everyone involved why I was taking my business to this particular organization even though the product cost was higher.

I'm hopeful that this kind of movement will gain momentum in state legislation.
posted by odinsdream at 1:53 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


But we also ultimately suffering for it, if what you say is true, so why the hell would we keep supporting it?

No, the point is that someone else is suffering for it. seanyboy said as much - it's easier to identify with American warehouse workers than it is to identify with Chinese miners or whoever. He's not even American and he feels this way. What do you want to bet that the warehouse workers themselves own electronics, or shop at WalMart, or whatever? I'm not condemning them; I'm pointing out that the problem is the system. No, I don't have a better one, because I'm not smarter than the centuries of human history that have gotten us to this point.

People keep saying this, but never actually backing it up. I don't think I've ever seen anyone back it up, even though it gets repeated in every corporate discussion that has ever happened on the Internet.

Point taken, and I am not a lawyer so finding an actual citation would take up days of my time. retract the "required by law" part, but I do think this is how the vast majority of corporations act in practice. (No, I don't have a cite for that either. :) )
posted by desjardins at 1:55 PM on September 20, 2011


Also:

It doesn't pass even a basic common sense test to think that way of doing business is sustainable over the long term.

You're presuming that corporations are necessarily thinking about the long term. Remember that whole financial collapse thing in 2008.
posted by desjardins at 1:57 PM on September 20, 2011


No, the point is that someone else is suffering for it.

Over the long run, we're all somebody else! And that long run is here, now.


but I'm not really clear on why people think there's a legal reason for it.

It's rare, but my understanding is a handful of companies have been successfully sued by their shareholders for not making the most profit-maximizing choices. I think that's where the idea comes from.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:59 PM on September 20, 2011


It's rare, but my understanding is a handful of companies have been successfully sued by their shareholders for not making the most profit-maximizing choices. I think that's where the idea comes from.

More often than not the CEO will just be replaced. So to keep his paycheck what does it matter if 15 people nearly die?
posted by PenDevil at 2:02 PM on September 20, 2011


I got the same whitewash back from Amazon. I would have thought my prime membership would have resulted in a fancier response, but no.

So I own my own business, and have no employees. I am ineligible to join the IWW. I'd like to express solidarity with unionized workers. Which union can I join?
posted by maxwelton at 2:12 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Same here, also a Prime member, former employee, and a customer since around 1998. I told 'em I'll be shopping elsewhere until this is resolved.
posted by zippy at 2:16 PM on September 20, 2011


Sent off my note telling them that I will not be buying anything from them until this is fixed, and that I also sent the article to all of my friends urging them to boycott them too. Fuck Amazon!
posted by echolalia67 at 2:23 PM on September 20, 2011


If you are out west, the Western States Center is a good place to send some support.

I think I'll reply to Amazon and ask them about the "unusual weather" Zippy found. It will at least put them in the position of replying with something other than a cut and past handout from flacks.

There's a long tradition of radical unions at bookstores. I think it would be quite fitting if this incident led to some education and organizing at Amazon. The Cellar Bookstore at U of M in Ann Arbor is IWW, IIRC. Powell's is ILWU, as noted above. I'm sure there are other examples.
posted by warbaby at 2:49 PM on September 20, 2011


It's rare, but my understanding is a handful of companies have been successfully sued by their shareholders for not making the most profit-maximizing choices. I think that's where the idea comes from.

The suits you refer to, I believe, had more to do with gross mismanagement that resulted in deep devaluations in stock values, and not simply because the company didn't cut every possible half-cent from operating costs.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:49 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I got the form letter twice - once following my initial message, and then again when I attempted to clarify that my main concern was less about their response to the temperature than it was their general labor approach (including using temps rather than hiring directly and not reducing productivity targets commensurate with the heat index). Way to respond to customer concerns, Amazon!
posted by EvaDestruction at 2:51 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it's just a bot, then we know the depth of their commitment to customer satisfaction.
posted by warbaby at 2:55 PM on September 20, 2011


Amazon: July 2011 was a highly unusual month and set records for the hottest temperatures during any single calendar month in cities across the East Coast.

I don't think the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 allows exemptions due to unusual weather.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:02 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it's just a bot --- I think Amazon was among the first online companies to implement an autoreply bot that parsed the incoming email and sent out a relatively suitable reply. It's always been really, really hard to actually find a way to contact a real, live human being there.
posted by crunchland at 3:17 PM on September 20, 2011


So I guess this is what it's about when I get those nineteen emails from Amazon every day promising me HOT SPECIALS.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:20 PM on September 20, 2011


So I own my own business, and have no employees. I am ineligible to join the IWW. I'd like to express solidarity with unionized workers. Which union can I join?

Buy from suppliers who're unionized over those who don't, and let them know why you're giving them your business.
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:20 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


ABC's Allentown affiliate has the details.

"JULY 6, 2011 -- One of the world's largest online retailers is brining hundreds of jobs ..."

IT'S A COOKBOOK!
posted by zippy at 3:25 PM on September 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


My company has a warehouse operation not three blocks away from that site. I've been there a few times.

Any manager that would lock their staff inside on a hot day would be escorted out in short order. Yes we have quotas, yes we have production goals to meet, but yes we treat our workers as humans.

I have to wonder how much complicity ISS has in this debacle. Seems on the surface that a few red flags must have been raised.
posted by geckoinpdx at 3:35 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


FWIW, the Consumer Action Handbook lists this contact info for Amazon:
Amazon.com, Inc.
Customer Service
PO Box 81266
Seattle, WA 98108-1226
206-266-1000 (Corporate)
Toll-free: 1-800-201-7575 (Customer Service)
posted by nicebookrack at 3:48 PM on September 20, 2011


The phrase that always comes to my mind when I read these sorts of things is "libertarian paradise."
posted by phearlez at 4:04 PM on September 20, 2011


July 2011 was a highly unusual month

Amazon's reply is so much horseshit. Sorry if this has been directly pointed out, but the Lehigh Valley Hospital emergency room doctor made his call on June 10. And, from the article: Ambulances responded to multiple medical assistance calls at the Amazon warehouse during hot days in May.

Jesus. They're not even fucking trying. And the heat is only one issue:

He had previous shipping industry experience and liked the job for the first six months, but then he said the productivity rate abruptly doubled one day from 250 units per hour for smaller items to 500 units per hour.

"One day we came into work and they said, 'Your rate is now 500 units per hour. Get to it.' " Zweifel said. "No warning or nothing. I'm a young guy. I could keep up with it. But I saw the older people working there, they were getting written up a lot. I didn't think it was fair."

Employees were threatened with termination on a daily basis during meetings at the beginning of their shifts, Zweifel said.


I knew about the temp stuff - everyone does that, and the article has a claim that about half the warehouse workers are now permanent - but the slavedriving bullshit is horrible to learn about so directly. Ugh. We really need to hear more of these stories from other warehouses.
posted by mediareport at 4:12 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, I got a reply to my follow-up email. Exact same message, different signature.

So Amazon is just emitting spam as a smokescreen. What ever they're saying, it's obvious they don't mean it. It's just posturing by PR flacks doing "perception manangement."

carry on.
posted by warbaby at 4:20 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Offhand I'd say writing letters to Amazon has proven not to be an effective use of time.

But ... now the story has been picked up by Business Insider and Huffington Post.

The topic is still not trending on Twitter (neither amazon nor #amazon).
posted by Surfurrus at 4:22 PM on September 20, 2011


More fallout ... tweet away!
posted by Surfurrus at 4:24 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well this is how they stay competitive and profitable. They could choose to take a hit with their profit margin or they could raise prices for consumers. Neither sound likely, even though I'm sure that their level of profit leaves PLENTY of room for adjustments.

This is why unions are so important. They bridge the gap between what is legal and what is ethical or even common sense. (As was mentioned about Costco making more by providing more to employees.)

I know that's obvious, but somewhere in there lies the answer.
posted by snsranch at 4:38 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


So I own my own business, and have no employees. I am ineligible to join the IWW. I'd like to express solidarity with unionized workers. Which union can I join?

MaxWelton, you can join the National Writers Union.

Their eligibility requirements are not that stringent and you do not have to be a U.S. citizen to join. They also offer health insurance. I might just renew my membership now.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:49 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


People, please. Surely the only way to compete with offshore workers is to bring offshore working conditions to N. America, right? I mean, it works in SE Asia, why not here?
posted by sneebler at 5:11 PM on September 20, 2011


First Amazon claims June 3 was a very hot day (75ºF). Now they say July was record-setting 'across much of New England.'

However, they don't say 'in Allentown, Pennsylvania' or 'Lehigh Valley.'

So, how did the weather at, you know, their factory, compare to the records?

July 1: the high temperature on that day was only 82ºF, the maximum historic temperature on that day was 97ºF, set in 1963.

So the month starts off with a high temperature 15 degrees below the record.

How about July 2? 87ºF, 15 degrees below the record.

OK, well, let's sample. How about July 7, 14, and 21?

10 degrees below the record, 16 below, 4 degrees below.

July 21 was the hottest day in all of July 2011 in Allentown, with a high of 98ºF. There were only two days in all of July where the hottest temperature broke 95ºF. I grew up in the North East, and 90+ degree days are not unusual.

The more I look at Amazon's claims about freak weather, alongside news articles that say that they kept the loading dock doors closed on what they claim were record-setting hot days (that weren't record setting, but let's assume a hypothetical where Weather Underground has bad data), it seems that this facility is a solar oven, and it's because of decisions Amazon made in its operation

and probably its construction. Anyone have a pic of the rafters? Bet there's no insulation.
posted by zippy at 5:38 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sorry, July 21 was 3 degrees below the record, not 4.
posted by zippy at 5:40 PM on September 20, 2011


Amazon. And I'm done.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:53 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish I could say I was even remotely surprised by this, but the worst job I ever had was a temp gig at Amazon. Not in the warehouse, so physically I didn't suffer from work-related issues aside from fatigue and eye strain, but in every other possible way they sucked my will to live.

I've known a lot of people who have worked for Amazon, some in temp roles like mine or like these warehouse gigs and some in permanent positions as exec assistants and senior software devs. From just anecdotal evidence it seems that this is the way they treat all of their employees up to the executive level, temp or permanent -- the senior software dev was a guy I dated briefly, we broke up mainly because I never got to see him due to his 80+ hour work weeks.
posted by palomar at 5:53 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm.

Those of you looking for alternatives to Amazon, for books anyway, might consider your local indie bookshop, and Indiebound, which makes buying online and picking up locally easy-ish.
posted by notyou at 5:59 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I use Amazon for a LOT of stuff. The only internet-based service I use more is Netflix. I think I may be rejoining the human race this week, whether I like it or not....
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:17 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just a few minutes ago, I finally got my nearly-identical canned reply from Amazon:

Hello,

Thanks for writing to us at Amazon.com.

At Amazon, the safety and well-being of our employees is our number one 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.

Our fulfillment team was dealing with record hot temperatures this past summer. We have air conditioning in some of our fulfillment centers -- Phoenix, AZ for example -- but we haven't historically had air conditioning in our East Coast fulfillment centers. We're in the process of adding air conditioning to additional fulfillment centers so that we're prepared in case what we saw this past summer becomes the new normal.

Thank you for your feedback. We hope to see you again soon.

Best regards,

Hari D.
Amazon.com
Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.


I hope the fact that it took over 8 hours to respond means that they are being inundated with complaints about this.
posted by marsha56 at 6:51 PM on September 20, 2011


I too am done with Amazon after reading this. I've written to them at the contact address yefatmama listed above (https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/contact-us/general-questions.html) to say so, unless they make major policy changes and compensate the Allentown workers for their trauma.
posted by spitbull at 6:57 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's now the front page above the fold story on Huffington Post.

Live by the internet, motherfuckers, and you know the rest.
posted by spitbull at 7:00 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone who considers Costco to be the consience of the retail industry may be just a bit disappointed if they were to walk the isles in search of a non food item that was made in America. The labels of the clothing for sale feature a who's who of opressive, shithole sweatshop countries and I will make no mention of electronic devices which have already been mentioned in this thread. They're taking us down the same road as Walmart, Amazon, etc., it's just that the soldiers get paid quite a bit better to help drive the nails into that cross. But hey, a Roman soldiers gotta eat.
posted by jake1 at 7:16 PM on September 20, 2011


That attitude makes progress impossible.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:29 PM on September 20, 2011


Not the part about holding Costco accountable for sourcing from sweatshops in other countries, but the cynical bit at the end.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:32 PM on September 20, 2011


Its the lament of someone made complicit in his own destruction. Sorry if I don't see the solution as electing "better" Democrats.
posted by jake1 at 7:46 PM on September 20, 2011


Well, there's not going to be any one solution, obviously. It's not a one-time thing we need; it's an active civil society that always stays engaged and protects its interests in an enlightened way. But you're missing something else, in your leap to cynicism: Wal-Mart originally used its market dominance to create the current state of ubiquitous sweat shop manufacturing because it had no commitment to labor standards. Currently, there simply aren't any really ethical producers for a lot of the products we consume, and Wal-Mart played a major role in making that happen.

Costco doesn't have that kind of clout yet. But if it maintains its commitment to ethical business practices and eventually comes to dominate the market, pushing out more rapacious business models like Wal-Mart's, it could bring the same kind of pressure Wal-Mart now does to bear on improving working conditions for the factory workers who produce those goods. Given Costco's good relationship with labor, it should be easy to keep on the pressure to live up to those standards.

You can't expect instant victory, but it is possible to make and build on smaller, concrete gains if there's enough unified support for more ethical--and more prosperous over the long term--ways of doing business. Eventually, all those gains add up to real progress. One little step after another: that's what "progress" (as opposed to instant-TV dinner) means.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:03 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm watching. Something interesting is happening -- not looking good so far, but interesting.

If any real outrage about this evolves, I think it is going to be easily drowned out by Amazon's noise. A TWN article "Amazon responds to complaints about poor working conditions in warehouses" is being re-tweeted as though it says something (it is just the same canned answer that others said they received from the Amazon bot)

Also on Twitter you can get $2 (!) just for 'bot-ing' for them - so twitter searches for 'amazon' show a stream of advertising. But then that is no big surprise ... you only have to look at trending topics to see that twitter has lost all of its edge on 'breaking news'.

The interesting part of this is the huge vacuum - the seeming lack of importance of this news item - that can be created by a corporation the size and power of Amazon. They seem to know that it will all go away (watch for more 'specials' for their customers as they buy off bad feelings).

The interesting part is, cynicism seems the most reasonable response. How strange. How sad.


I should admit -- I already abandoned all interaction with Amazon some time ago -- when they kicked Wikileaks off their site. The writing was on the wall.
posted by Surfurrus at 8:10 PM on September 20, 2011


Sorry, saulgoodman, that was a strange juxtapositioning of posts -- I hadn't read yours before I sent mine. And, I know from past posts how committed and earnest you are about engaging in the political process.

I hope I am wrong in my 'sensing' of this situation. I really feel like we are entering a new phase ... and that brief 'people power' window of 'internet revolutions' is past. I believe the corporations are using the tools and tactics on us now.
posted by Surfurrus at 8:17 PM on September 20, 2011


Interesting. I got the same form letter response as everyone else, but they changed:

'Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.'

to

'Thank you for your feedback. We hope to see you again soon.'
posted by Space Kitty at 8:48 PM on September 20, 2011


Wow, that TWN article *completely* ignores the production accusations - the doubling of quotas without warning, the rigid point system, the daily threats of firing. Amazing. Focusing only on the heat injuries hands the game to Amazon right from the start. Way to go, TWN.
posted by mediareport at 8:54 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Both of those lines appeared in earlier responses, Space Kitty.
posted by crunchland at 8:55 PM on September 20, 2011


TNW, you know what I mean, whatever.
posted by mediareport at 8:55 PM on September 20, 2011


To Señor Goodman,
While I certainly concede (again) that Costco treats its workers remarkably well given the current climate and what is permissable, they currently account for only 5-10 percent of US retail sales in their particular area of sales. And while their growth in sales from last year was respectable (around 6%), it was Amazon who really turned heads with a whopping 46% year over year sales increase. So, even assuming that Costco has aspirations of bringing ethics and good vibrations to the supply chain, and that is making a pretty big assumption, one must ask which business model is more likely to become the standard. Besides, if you've cruised the isles at Costco, you'll know that the business model is not "let's charge slightly more for shit made here in the states!", its "Holy fuck! That's a QUALITY dresser set for $99.99!" But its the Consumer in us that makes us think that we can buy our way into a better world. At the end of the day, besides food, what does Costco, Amazon, etc., have that we really need? Not too much, in my opinion.
posted by jake1 at 8:57 PM on September 20, 2011


My goodbye note to Amazon:

I've been a customer for years and was appalled at what I've been reading about the conditions workers face at the Allentown warehouse. I'm less interested in the heat issue (although your boilerplate "July was extra hot" response fails to account for the medical assistance required in May and June) than I am in the accusation of a doubling of production quotas with no warning, absurdly rigid time-keeping and constant threats of firing if workers fail to "make rate" in an unforgiving system. If this is how you operate, how you treat the human beings who ship the goods I buy from you, I want no part of it. I refuse to buy anything further from Amazon.com until I learn from a reliable source that these workplace issues - not the ridiculous way you're shaving costs on the heat, but the utterly disrespectful, fearful way you handle production - have been changed.
posted by mediareport at 8:57 PM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


I hope I am wrong in my 'sensing' of this situation. I really feel like we are entering a new phase ... and that brief 'people power' window of 'internet revolutions' is past. I believe the corporations are using the tools and tactics on us now.

Maybe so, but modern corporate culture and its short-term oriented business practices have brought us to the point that we now have 22% of our children living in poverty in the US. Nearly a quarter of kids living in the US today are poor. We have a half a million kids living in the streets.

The race-to-the-bottom can't go on much longer. It can't go on forever because destroying the consumer base bit-by-bit by constantly squeezing labor will eventually leads the whole world to ruin. not only because we're reaching a point when Americans aren't going to put up with it anymore, just like we haven't for long any other time in our history when things have come to a similar pass. Count on it.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:57 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


argh. garbled the ending there. but whatever. it's late. think i'm still half delirious from quitting ciggies cold turkey. anyway, g'night.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:01 PM on September 20, 2011


Now is a good time to remember that Audible.com is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon. I tried to cancel my Audible subscription through the website just now. "We're sorry you're upset", the website says. "To continue canceling, please call Customer Care." I'll give them a call tomorrow...
posted by problemspace at 9:07 PM on September 20, 2011


I used to do my book buying through bookfinder.com. Then I got lazy and started to do more through Amazon.

One advantage to bookfinder is they tend to go with sellers who pay attention to the ABAA condition ratings. One of my recent purchases through Amazon was a reprint that was identified as a first edition. The price wasn't jacked up, but used books - particularly hard to find ones - are a pig in a poke through Amazon (or eBay for that matter.)
posted by warbaby at 10:50 PM on September 20, 2011


Just to be clear, warbaby:

In 2005, BookFinder.com was acquired by AbeBooks, which itself was purchased by Amazon.com on August 1, 2008.
posted by mediareport at 6:33 AM on September 21, 2011


I agree that BookFinder (and AbeBooks) are more reliable places to buy used books. I also find prices on out-of-print books from dealers there that are often cheaper than what you find listed at Amazon.
posted by mediareport at 6:35 AM on September 21, 2011


These days, actually I get all my books second hand via Paperback Swap. For free!

Okay, I have to put up some books I want to get rid of, but that's doubly good as I get to clean house. I also love the cool "you've saved X much money this year so far" tally they keep for you; they calculate how much you would have spent buying those same books used via Amazon. Which seems especially sweet now!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:39 AM on September 21, 2011


Kadin2048: "Man, I would love to do business with a company that doesn't have profit as its sole motivation, but then what kind of idiot would want to start such an enterprise? And how long would it last?

Here you go.

Note that "doesn' have profit as its sole motivation" doesn't necessarily mean "warm and cuddly."
"

They're a non-profit charity!
posted by Deathalicious at 6:46 AM on September 21, 2011


That sucks about bookfinder and Abebooks. Christ, it's like trying to get away from Microsoft and Apple. Or Rockefeller and Standard Oil, for that matter.

On the other hand, the story trended well in the news yesterday, reaching over 100 on Google news tracking for "Amazon Warehouse" last night.

As always, the solution to the mess we are in is: 1) education 2) organization 3) mobilization 4) collective action. Not always in that order, but those are the things that need to happen.

Global capitalism is in crisis of a magnitude not seen since the 1930's, a period that sucked deeply in so many ways. But it also marked the turning point in organizing for collective bargaining rights. Once all the scissorbills, finks, libertarians and bullyworshipers have had their say, it will be our turn again.
posted by warbaby at 7:22 AM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


I temped for Amazon during the Christmas rush of 2000 and 2001. In 2000, I went through the wrong agency and ended up at the local warehouse. It was one of the hardest jobs I ever worked -- I spent every day racing through a maze of bookshelves with a small rolling cart pick books off a shelf to fit the computer generated printout I received. The books were all tagged with a number to fit the sheet I took and I would roll the cart to the end of an aisle and race down it picking up all the books on the list and putting them on the cart.

This was back in the gung ho days at Amazon when employees were getting big money through stock dividends, so the regulars were extremely gung ho about it, referring to themselves as owners. And a lot of the regulars were ex-military officers as well, which contributed to the hard ass approach they had. For certain, a lot of people got let go every other day for working too slow.

But certainly the temps weren't owners. They were for the most part poor folks desperate for work. I was working with Somalis, Ethiopians, Laotians, far out proportion to their percentage of their local populations--not to mention homeless guys and gals commuting from cars and campers parked nearby on the streets of Georgetown where the warehouse was located.

The break room was plywood walled spartan with odd touches: like fancy high end salads in upscale vending machines for fancy high end prices along with the usual crappy vending machine sandwiches and burritos in the usual crappy vending machines. And there were about eight computers with internet access which were always mobbed on breaks.

And on the floor itself, there were these huge cloth banners hanging from the rafters with these psychobabble slogans about 'ownership' and 'empowerment' printed on them that amounted to The Quotations for Chairman Jeff -- the whole effect was like Metropolis crossed with Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times crossed with The Triumph of the Will. I only wish I had written some of them down....

I was literally running from start to finish and I came home whupped. I fell asleep in my rocking chair most nights.

The next year I worked at customer service, which compared to the warehouse, was a dream job. I would have angled for a permanent gig but for the fact that the operation got shut down right after Christmas due to the fact that the regulars were agitating for union representation. I believe the same thing happened to the warehouse as well -- and it was obvious where Amazon was going when I worked there. They had already opened a warehouse in Kentucky where the local regular warehouse employees joked that the one of the problems was getting the Kentucky employees not to bring guns to work or come to work drunk or both.

S'funny -- In a giddy mood, I wrote an email to This American Life about the warehouse gig from the breakroom there and got a call from one of their producers. I described the place in detail, the work, the workers and fascistic banners included and got lined up with a talk with Ira Glass. Which was fun -- but it was never used. I was either less than scintillating at the time than required or it was related to the prominent mentions of Amazon at the end of the programs when any books or CDs were mentioned as This American Life had a distribution deal with them. It was not a flattering conversation as far as Amazon was concerned.

I got an Amazon gift certificate as a Christmas gift when I worked at the warehouse and I bought a CD. I have never ordered another thing from them since. And I have always avoided using an Amazon link to any book I have mentioned in any post. I have used either the publisher's page for the book in question or a solid review. It may be a delicious sausage at a low, low price but I have seen it being made.
posted by y2karl at 10:47 AM on September 21, 2011 [17 favorites]


I don't know why this is surprising to anyone. My daughter worked at factory as a temp and she had to put lids on hot cheese, burning her fingers. Then some woman sprayed the floor with steaming hot water and got her legs and when my daughter complained, she just laughed at her. The management's meeting with the workers was to warn people not to leave stuff in their lockers (because someone was stealing things). She complained to the temp agency, only to be told to put up with it.

I myself worked temp, doing accounts receivable for a multi-million dollar account. I was part of a Six Sigma Team, doing reports every Monday to analyze computer errors and handing them off to my team, only to get a phone call from my boss, screaming at me about why it was 1.2 million in past due accounts. I got paid $10 an hour with zero benefits. The other workers got paid $14 an hour with benefits. I got a duffel bag with the Six Sigma logo on it. The irony is that I had worked for the guys who developed Six Sigma years before and I think they would have been appalled at how their method was being used by others.

When I was a speaker at the Regina Polk Conference, one of the other speakers told about the heartbreaking days she'd put in at the Staley Lockout. People didn't just get hot there, they died. People still die and get injured every day here in America. Forget the psychological toll and the low wages that don't allow anyone to get ahead, this country has been built on cheap labor. If they can't get it here, they go elsewhere. And elsewhere is where we need to look with unions (not, they are taking our jobs, oh my!).

My great-grandfather worked in a factory here in Maine and he died of kidney failure, brought on by long days with not being able to take bathroom breaks.

This is not a new issue in America, nor the world. We don't need to make it an America-centric problem, it is a world-wide problem.

I don't like ra-rah and I don't like people forcing me into organizing, because I was brought up to be nice, polite, and educated. But I for sure fucking HATE my daughter getting sprayed with hot water and my friend getting a 50 pound box dropped on his foot at UPS and being told to come into work or else and I really, really hate sitting in a goddamn beige cubicle counting widgets and doing highbrow analytical crap for bigass companies who won't even pay me a living wage or benefits, which might make it worth it to me to listen to the screaming phone calls and endless meetings every Monday when I know about 10 times more than their newly trained Six Sigma black belt. Then to be told I have to take 3 weeks off unpaid at the holidays, guess what? I lost my apartment and had to go live with my folks. I have a lot more stories and I'm sure a lot of other people here do also, maybe they just don't want to tell them. Why don't we have a MetaFilter Union? The anti-pundit, thinking people's union?

Jesus H. Christ. How much do people have to take any more? Losing their jobs, losing their houses, breaking up their marriages, living on the streets or in their cars, and begging, can't even get a job at McDonald's? And then to put the frosting on the cake, the politicians, who seem to think they are celebrities or rock stars instead of our PAID representatives, have the hubris to criticize their fellow Americans and call them "pundits?" Give me a fucking break. YOU ARE NOT OUR GODS. YOU. WORK. FOR. US. WE. ELECT. YOU. WE. PAY. YOUR. SALARIES.

Oh no we don't work for you, some say. Corporate America decides all, and the think tanks support U.S. policy. Well, guess what, motherfuckers. I won't work for you. But I'm watching you. And now, due to the internet, we all have a voice, worldwide. Pundit this, you bitches.

Oh, and Amazon. Fuck you.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:57 PM on September 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


Oh, and by the way, my daughter got a part time job and worked her way up and just got promoted to manager and tripled her salary, so double fuck you.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:04 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amazon Recruits Medics for Its Sweatshop
posted by homunculus at 7:48 PM on September 21, 2011


Interesting that Gawker post and its comments focus only on the heat issue and not the horrifically stupid "meet our newly doubled quotas or get fired, lazy assholes!" management style. What is it with folks who can read about absurdly stupid and oppressive workplace rules and ignore them completely?
posted by mediareport at 8:14 PM on September 21, 2011


I think we should have a sit out on October 5th. Everyone sit out and stop working for one day. Sit out. It's a good enough day as any. Just sit out.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:33 PM on September 21, 2011


Anyone who has a Twitter or Facebook #sitout. Get the entire world to sit out for one day. Let's stop talking about it and do it. World wide labor strike for one day. October 5th. Sit out.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:06 PM on September 21, 2011


Lets see how that works out for you.
posted by seanyboy at 2:29 AM on September 22, 2011


Great, Marie, then you are going to pay my bills when I get fired? I understand (and agree with) the sentiment but it's facile. In this economy, too many of us are easily replaced. The ones that aren't easily replaced tend to have good working conditions, so there's no personal need for them to strike.

Someone making $10/hour at a warehouse would be insane to strike. What are they going to do, use PTO? They need that money, and there are lots of other people lining up to take that job.
posted by desjardins at 6:54 AM on September 22, 2011


PS I have good working conditions, but I'm definitely replaceable in this economy. Too many smart people out of work.
posted by desjardins at 6:59 AM on September 22, 2011


You're right, of course, desjardins. There are plenty of people out there doing more organized things that don't involve getting people fired.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:14 AM on September 22, 2011


JEFF BEZOS, YOU SAVED CRISTMAS!!! YUO TRUELY ARE TEH SON OF GOD!!!!!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:55 AM on September 22, 2011


Here is an article about recent thefts from this Amazon facility.
posted by dayton2600 at 10:17 AM on September 22, 2011


I live near a huge UPS distribution facility. When I subscribed to the local weekly paper, the police blotter in it would usually include at least one report of theft by a UPS employee. Handguns were popular. One guy stole a set of T-tops for a Camaro. I guess they should keep the doors closed, but that might make getting the trucks in & out harder.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:30 AM on September 22, 2011


I wonder what the rate of theft is at comparable unionized workplaces.
posted by Theta States at 11:34 AM on September 22, 2011


Timothy Ward, 18, of Henryville in Monroe County, tried to steal seven video game discs Sept. 14 during his shift at 705 Boulder Drive in Upper Macungie, according to court documents.
He told police he took the discs from their cases, put them in his pocket and planned to give them to his son and nephew, court papers say. Police say the games are worth $350.


*sigh*
They are worthless just as discs, so definitely just for his family. But to be a dad and an uncle at 18, and stuck working a warehouse job, and now with a google-able criminal record?
*sigh*
posted by Theta States at 11:42 AM on September 22, 2011


So far haven't sent any letters, but:

-Audible.com monthly subscription cancelled.
-Diaper.Com order for $91 cancelled. All future equivalent monthly/Bi-monthly diaper/supplies cancelled.
-No new orders for books, CD's or appliances from Amazon for the foreseeable future. (Although I've decided to keep up the weekly $1.99 to watch the latest season of Breaking Bad).

Get your act together Amazon. You should be an industry leader in good employment practices and workplace conditions.
posted by Skygazer at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2011


Oh, and the SO is sending out a Boycott Diapers.com/Amazon notice to all the mommy boards.

YOU DO NOT WANT TO FUCK WITH THE MOMMY BOARDS, AMAZON.
posted by Skygazer at 12:25 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Actually, skygazer, I'd be curious as to the response of the mommy boards -- can you keep us posted? I have a feeling that this may not have as big an impact as, say, someone finding out that a particular diaper used BPAS or something.

(What I mean is: if the item-to-boycott risks endangering the actual kids, then I'd expect the "release the hounds" reaction; but this is affecting people who ship items TO the kids, and there may be enough of a remove there that the ire would be raised quite so high.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:41 PM on September 22, 2011


That's a very good point. I wonder if the convenience of something like Diaper.com, so incredibly important in those chaotic first days, months of having a child, outweigh the fact that Amazon treats it's workers like slaves. It's not that far from the industry standard sadly.

It needs to be worded right, and in terms of parents thinking about what they want work conditions to be like in the next couple of decades. The thought of my daughter (now 3), having to work in conditions like that because I sat on my hands and let it happen and let things deteriorate would not be something I hope I would allow. I can't be alone in that.

People's parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, all worked to make working conditions more humane and quality of life better. Is this new gen of parents up to doing that again for their kids?

Man, this might be more of an essay than simply a call to boycott it would seem. I guess it could be both, but that call to boycott needs to be worded right, you are 1000% perceptive and wise on this EmpressCaligraphy (sic)...
posted by Skygazer at 1:38 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It doesn't look like this has been posted yet, but Market Watch is reporting that Amazon has spent $2.4M installing air conditioners as a result of this outcry. Who ever said bitching about stuff on the internet never fixed anything?
posted by workerant at 10:10 AM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I am skeptical of that Market Watch story. It includes this:
Amazon.com Inc. /quotes/zigman/63011/quotes/nls/amzn AMZN -0.46% said it spent $2.4 million to install industrial air conditioning units in four of its distribution centers following a media report last week detailing sweltering conditions in a Pennsylvania warehouse.
. . .
The Internet retailer said the air conditioners were online in late July and early August and noted air conditioning remains an unusual practice in warehouses.
If the A/C was working in July and August, why did they not mention that in their reply to people complaining about the situation? Also not that the story does not say which distribution centers got the A/C
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:27 AM on September 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


[Also note]
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:28 AM on September 23, 2011


New York Times column "Currents" covered the topic well today, emphasizing the quotas and other abuses of temp workers.

The Fraying of a Nation's Decency

Employees were hounded to “make rate,” meaning to pick or pack 120, 125, 150 pieces an hour, the rates rising with tenure. Tenure, though, wasn’t long, because the work force was largely temps from an agency. Permanent jobs were a mirage that seldom came. And so workers toiled even when injured to avoid being fired. A woman who left to have breast cancer surgery returned a week later to find that her job had been “terminated.”

The image of one man stuck with me. He was a temp in his 50s, one of the older “pickers” in his group, charged with fishing items out of storage bins and delivering them to the packers who box shipments. He walked at least 13 miles, or 20 kilometers, a day across the warehouse floor, by his estimate.

His assigned rate was 120 items an hour, or one item every 30 seconds. But it was hard to move fast enough between one row and the next, and hard for him to read the titles on certain items in the lowest bins. The man would get on his hands and knees to rummage through the lowest bins, and sometimes found it easier to crawl across the warehouse to the next bin rather than stand and dip again. He estimated plunging onto his hands and knees 250 to 300 times a day. After seven months, he, too, was terminated.

posted by charlie don't surf at 4:12 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Powells isn't really an option outside the US, unfortunately. Now that Book Depository is an Amazon property, if anyone knows of a decent site to buy English-language books in the EU, please share.

Amazon options in the EU for cmonkey et al:

Better World Books, free shipping worldwide (!), and proceeds from sales go to literacy and library projects.

Chapters, a Canadian alternative.

Housmans, "providing an ethical alternative to Amazon."
posted by Paris Elk at 3:32 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Morning Call, the paper that broke the story, did a follow-up on Sept. 24:

Amazon gets heat over warehouse

Note again the complete lack of response from Amazon on the "make rate" production issues - the sudden doubling of quotas, the daily climate of fear, etc:

One former Amazon warehouse worker who read the company's statement said he was disappointed because it did not address major concerns among workers, namely, the rapid production rates they are expected to achieve to avoid being terminated, and the frequent turnover.

"Amazon didn't address the concerns with the speed of processing," said Steve Pratt, 53, of East Stroudsburg, who worked in the warehouse as a temporary employee for one month before being terminated, he said, for not working fast enough. "They defended their hiring of temps, and claimed that more than 800 were converted to full time, but they still didn't address the speed of processing. … They still have a huge turnover rate."

Current Amazon warehouse workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said no changes have taken place in the facility since The Morning Call article ran.


And the Marketwatch link from just above is kinda garbage (no offense, workerant, it just is):

Market Watch is reporting that Amazon has spent $2.4M installing air conditioners as a result of this outcry. Who ever said bitching about stuff on the internet never fixed anything?

Yeah, as Keith pointed out, that article's headline and first sentence are ridiculously misleading. The original Morning Call article actually discussed those units; the follow-up repeats that they were generally ineffective: "workers interviewed said the warehouses remained hot unless they were in close proximity to those systems."

To paint the installation of "those systems" as a *response* to the Internet outcry is just plain blatant lying to make Amazon look good. Or a reporter getting suckered by Amazon in a particularly idiotic way. Your pick, Marketwatch.
posted by mediareport at 2:49 AM on September 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


But back to Amazon ... they actually own some robotic warehouses. Diapers.com was heavily automated prior to the acquisition by AMZ, so unless they've taken it apart they have at least one.
Well, diapers are a lot more delicate and lighter then the sundry goods that amazon sells. Having a warehouse designed to automate shipping of specific, light, non-breakable items is pretty different then having a 'generalized' automated warehouse that can ship anything. They probably have a lot of automation, but you can't automate everything at this point.
posted by delmoi at 9:07 AM on September 29, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: "Actually, skygazer, I'd be curious as to the response of the mommy boards -- can you keep us posted? I have a feeling that this may not have as big an impact as, say, someone finding out that a particular diaper used BPAS or something.

(What I mean is: if the item-to-boycott risks endangering the actual kids, then I'd expect the "release the hounds" reaction; but this is affecting people who ship items TO the kids, and there may be enough of a remove there that the ire would be raised quite so high.)
"

Indeed. When Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, he hoped his words about the horrible conditions the workers faced would lead to change in their working conditions. Instead, everyone was horrified by the desciption of the meatpacking industry and meat consumption plummetted. He aimed at the public's heart, and by accident [...] hit it in the stomach.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:26 AM on September 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


He aimed at the public's heart, and by accident [...] hit it in the stomach.

Deathalicious, indeed.

The message does need to hit people in a very direct and visceral manner, and I'm glad you bring up Upton Sinclair, because this news piece here that broke this story does harken back to an older style of socially progressive non-fiction writing that brings to light the struggles of the regular citizen needing wider exposure and a voice in the public eye so changes can be made and abuses can be hit with sunlight.

I feel like that sort of writing is about to make a massive comeback as the corrosion in worker rights and consumer rights that 30 years of Wall Street plutocratic oriented policy making comes to a full boil. I'm seeing a lot more of it in The Nation, which probably never stopped doing that sort of writing and can trace it directly to the original movement of socially conscious investigative journalism/dramatic non-fiction etc... You know, like real life non-fiction Dickens and another reason why independent local newspapers must be helped out to survive somehow.
posted by Skygazer at 12:55 PM on October 2, 2011


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