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Amazon Working Conditions – OSHA Investigates Heat in Pennsylvania Fulfillment Center – Consumer Report and Action Response

Activism > Consumer Defense

Summary. In June 2011 Amazon was sited for having poor working conditions (excessive heat) in one of their east coast order fulfillment centers. Amazon has since remedied the situation (as explained below) and OSHA has closed their investigation of the matter. Further research revealed that safety at Amazon fulfillment centers is better than that for department store workers, and much better than automotive industry or general warehouse work or other types of employment.

Consumer and Labor Action. Those concerned about labor issues should consider focusing their attention on industries with greater injury rates, poorer working conditions, and worse pay. Furthermore, many of the merchants who sell through Amazon are independent small businesses that don’t even use the Amazon fulfillment centers. So, boycotting them will not accomplish anything, but harming small business owners.

“We need to be more concerned about coal miners and workers in similar professions who have low wages and industry-wide working conditions that regularly threaten lives, and where the environment is being destroyed. I feel the Amazon story has just been a diversion from the more serious problems created by big business.” ~ Greg Johnson, the Consumer Defense Resource Group

Climate Issues. Climate change may be partly to blame for excessive heat in the Pennsylvania facility last summer. According to Amazon:

“At Amazon, the safety and well-being of our employees is our number one priority. We’ve 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.”

Amazon Customer Response. Below is a typical response that reflects the sentiment of those who continue to purchase from Amazon:

“…just as a point of information, mill workers, construction workers, and road crews deal with similar weather issues. Shall we refuse to drive, live in buildings.. use cars, refrigerators and other things.. like food, for instance, because the workers have conditions that are not as ideal as those in which you might work? My husband worked in a steel mill, now in a food factory. No A/C. And it gets cold in the winter. I understand feeling compassion.. but to blame Amazon and ‘boycott’ is not a solution.” ~ Kathleen W.

Amazon Public Statement. This is the official statement made by Amazon about their labor and worker relations. [source: Amazon.com/fcpractices]

Working in the Amazon Fulfillment Network

November 11, 2011

The Amazon U.S. fulfillment network consists of 34 fulfillment centers, 20.9 million square feet, and over 61 million cubic feet of storage capacity. More than 15,000 full-time, permanent Amazon employees work in these fulfillment centers. We created over 8,600 of these jobs since January 1, 2010–and we’re hiring more.

Fulfillment Center Pay

Median pay inside our fulfillment centers is 30% higher than that of people who work in traditional retail stores–and that doesn’t even include the stock grants that full-time employees receive, which over the past five years have added an average of 9% to base pay annually. We also offer full-time benefits including healthcare.

As a way of finding high-quality permanent employees and to manage variation in customer demand, we also employ temporary associates. On average, temporary associates earn 94% of Amazon permanent starting wages. During the holiday season, temporary associates play a critical role in helping meet increased demand from customers. Over the past 12 months, we’ve converted 4,787 temporary associates into full-time employees.

Military Veteran Hiring

We actively recruit U.S. military veterans to join our organization, and hundreds have careers in our fulfillment network. This year, our team of military recruiters, made up of veterans from all branches of the armed forces, attended more than 80 events–from job fairs at U.S. military bases to events like RecruitMilitary and Military Stars Career Expo–to help veterans find job opportunities at Amazon.

Once employed at Amazon, we offer military veterans several programs that help them transition more easily into the civilian workforce and connect them with our significant internal network of veterans to provide mentoring and support. This year, Amazon was named #1 Top Military Friendly Employer by G.I. Jobs magazine and Most Valuable Employer for Military by Civilianjobs.com. More information about the program is available at www.amazon.com/military.

Fulfillment Center Safety

The top priority of our fulfillment center network is safety–it’s safer to work in the Amazon fulfillment network than in a department store. We measure progress on safety using the “recordable incidence rate,” which is the primary metric defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that oversees workplace safety. This rate represents the number of recordable injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time employees (permanent and temporary) per year. Work-related injuries and illnesses are recordable if they result, for example, in medical treatment beyond first aid, restricted work activity, or days away from work.

From January 1, 2006 to September 30, 2011, our U.S. fulfillment network had an annual average recordable incidence rate ranging from 2.5 to 4.2. These rates are lower than for auto manufacturing, the warehousing industry, and even for department stores.


Kaizen and Defect Reduction

We continuously work to streamline our processes and eliminate defects. Doing so drives a better customer experience, including faster delivery and lower costs that enable lower prices for customers.* We use many systematic methods to make work processes easier and more efficient, including the “Kaizen” program, named for the Japanese term meaning “change for the better”. Through the Kaizen program, employees participate in small teams to identify waste and streamline processes. This year, over 3,000 of our employees have performed 760 of these projects. For example, a team at our Hebron, Kentucky fulfillment center worked together to design a more efficient process for transferring inventory within our network, by fitting 20% more containers into each truck for an annual savings of more than $3 million in transportation costs and over 300,000 gallons of fuel.

We strive for continuous improvement, and we understand that our progress depends on good execution and good judgment from thousands of employees. Together, we’re working hard to make sure that we are better tomorrow than we are today.

Thank you.

* To verify our low prices, download our Price Check by Amazon app to your iPhone or Android device. Scan a barcode, snap a picture, or say or type the product name, and Price Check will show you prices from Amazon and our third-party merchants.

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com