It’s bad enough that 100 years later, no collective labor rights exist for people now working on the site of Bethlehem Steel. Now we have an in-depth report from the Allentown Morning Call about conditions at the Amazon.com warehouses in Breinigsville that make the Lehigh Valley sound like Shenzhen.
Please read the whole thing here. Below are some highlights and commentary.
Amazon’s priority and key competitive edge is quick delivery of products at low prices. Its Lehigh Valley location on Route 100 near Interstate 78 puts one-third of the population of the U.S. and Canada within a one-day haul. And the weak labor market helps keep employment costs down.
“We strive to offer our customers the lowest prices possible through low everyday product pricing and free shipping offers … and to improve our operating efficiencies so that we can continue to lower prices for our customers,” Amazon says about itself in documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The situation highlights how companies like Amazon can wield their significant leverage over workers in the bleak job market, labor experts say. Large companies such as Amazon can minimize costs for benefits and raises by relying on temporary workers rather than having a larger permanent workforce, those experts say.
“They can get away with it because most workers will take whatever they can get with jobs few and far between,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers. “The temp worker is less likely to complain about it and less likely to push for their labor rights because they feel like they don’t have much pull or sway with the worksite employer.”
Amazon warehouse workers interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds, including construction, small business owners and some with years of experience at other warehouse and shipping operations. Several of them said it was their worst work experience ever.
The Lehigh Valley’s prime location is being leveraged against us. Our community ( let alone our national economic depression and our own desire to work) is being exploited, and a firm called “Integrity” is key to the process. Isn’t it peculiar how the world “Amazon” itself still conjures images of “jungle,” and how the quintessential literary indictment of bullshit like what’s happening in Breinigsville was called The Jungle?
Their accounts stand in sharp contrast to the “fun, fast-paced” atmosphere described in online help wanted ads for the Amazon warehouse. Amazon and ISS both said they take the safety of workers seriously, but declined to discuss specific concerns current and former employees voiced to The Morning Call. Both companies had three weeks to respond to multiple Morning Call inquiries for this story.
Integrity. Got that?
Goris, the Allentown resident who worked as a permanent Amazon employee, said high temperatures were handled differently at other warehouses in which he worked. For instance, loading dock doors on opposite sides of those warehouses were left open to let fresh air circulate and reduce the temperature when it got too hot, he said. When Amazon workers asked in meetings why this wasn’t done at the Amazon warehouse, managers said the company was worried about theft, Goris said.
“Imagine if it’s 98 degrees outside and you’re in a warehouse with every single dock door closed,” Goris said.
Computers monitored the heat index in the building and Amazon employees received notification about the heat index by email. Goris said one day the heat index, a measure that considers humidity, exceeded 110 degrees on the third floor.
“I remember going up there to check the location of an item,” Goris said. “I lasted two minutes, because I could not breathe up there.”
Allentown resident Robert Rivas, 38, said he left his permanent Amazon warehouse job after about 13 months to take another job. He said he intensified his job search in May after the warehouse started getting very hot.
“We got emails about the heat, and the heat index got to really outrageous numbers,” he said, recalling that the index during one of his shifts hit 114 degrees on the ground floor in the receiving area.
Rivas said he received Amazon email notifications at his work station when employees needed assistance due to heat-related symptoms. He estimated he received between 20 and 30 such emails within a two-hour period one day. Some people pushed themselves to work in the heat because they did not want to get disciplinary points, he said.
This is an 11-page story in the paper and 9-page story online. You get this gist, but you need to read the whole thing if you haven’t already.
If Billy Joel could see us now.