Amazon.com Responds to Allegations It Abused Employees in Stifling Hot Warehouse

5:29 PM PST 09/20/2011 by Paul Bond

The Internet's leading seller of DVDs and video games says it will install air conditioning at additional fulfillment centers after some overheated workers were carted out on stretchers.

Amazon.com was defending itself Tuesday from a blistering expose alleging that so many workers at one of its warehouses had passed out during the summer that the company had to position paramedics outside to cart overheated employees away on stretchers and in wheelchairs.

In a 7,000-word article over the weekend, the Morning Call cited interviews with 20 employees who said temporary workers at a Pennsylvania warehouse suffered abuse at the hands of supervisors who made them work in a closed-door facility where the “heat index,” which includes humidity, reached 115 degrees.

One worker claimed he was made to walk as many as 15 miles per day in the hot warehouse while another said she’d cry herself to sleep each night. Employees took to chanting “end slavery at Amazon.”

The article suggested that temporary employees were oftentimes lured into working long, grueling shifts with promises of permanent, full-time employment that never materialized. A doctor who treated employees for heat-induced illnesses was cited in the article, as were complaints that were filed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

When the heat index soared past 110 degrees, management would allow workers time off, but then would punish them unless they later produced a doctor’s note, the article alleges.

Amazon responded to complaints from staffers at the warehouse by distributing cooling bandanas and cooling vests and making sure employees had access to plenty of water, according to the article.

On Tuesday, Amazon acknowledged that while facilities in hot parts of the country like Arizona are air-conditioned, the Lehigh Valley warehouse that was the focus of the article was not.

“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,” Amazon said in a statement emailed to The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday.

Amazon also said it was caught off guard by an unusually hot summer in that part of the country.

“We haven’t historically had air conditioning in our east coast fulfillment centers. We’re in the process of adding air conditioning to additional FC’s so that we’re prepared in case what we saw this past summer becomes the new normal,” Amazon said Tuesday.

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