Amazon Workers in Pennsylvania Work, Quite Literally, In a Sweatshop

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Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, is not known for its blazing-hot temperatures.

But the Amazon.com warehouse in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, is another story.

Workers there describe conditions inside the warehouse, including 100-plus-degree temperatures and a breakneck work pace, that have seen employees hospitalized and driven them away en masse.

The Morning Call reports:

Over the past two months, The Morning Call interviewed 20 current and former warehouse workers who showed pay stubs, tax forms or other proof of employment. They offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it's like to work in the Amazon warehouse, where temperatures soar on hot summer days, production rates are difficult to achieve and the permanent jobs sought by many temporary workers hired by an outside agency are tough to get.

Workers at the plant describe seeing their colleagues pass out at water fountains and being carried out on stretchers, only to be replaced quickly with new temporary workers pulled from staffing agencies that pay minimal wages and offer little in the way of benefits.

Those who avoid injuries are apparently constantly hounded to increase their work output, and promised that if they do, they will be rewarded with full-time employment from Amazon--a promise almost never fulfilled.

The reason for the conditions is simple: It's cost effective.

The supply of temporary workers keeps Amazon's warehouse fully staffed without the expense of a permanent workforce that expects raises and good benefits. Using temporary employees in general also helps reduce the prospect that employees will organize a union that pushes for better treatment because the employees are in constant flux, labor experts say. And Amazon limits its liability for workers' compensation and unemployment insurance because most of the workers don't work for Amazon, they work for the temp agency.

Conditions--particularly the heat--got so bad inside the warehouse that one day 15 people collapsed, and later there was an federal inspection that demanded changes to some of the warehouse's policies. At one point a local hospital even called federal regulators, informing them of a rash of heat-trauma patients that had come in from the warehouse.

For its part Amazon is refusing to talk about workplace conditions. In the Call's exhaustive piece on the facility, the paper describes asking multiple times for comment on conditions inside the facility.

Amazon had nothing to say. Though this week the company put out a statement claiming that safety was their "number one priority."

Indeed it was with great pride that Amazon described how, in partial response to the high warehouse temperatures, managers purchased 2,000 bandanas for people to wear on their heads.

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