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Thu Sept 22 2011 14:01:35

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

By: Ina Steiner

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Online sellers are concerned about conditions in Amazon warehouses after the Morning Call published a report on Saturday. The newspaper interviewed 20 current and former warehouse workers who called working conditions at a Pennsylvania warehouse dangerous.

"An emergency room doctor in June called federal regulators to report an "unsafe environment" after he treated several Amazon warehouse workers for heat-related problems," the newspaper wrote. "The doctor's report was echoed by warehouse workers who also complained to regulators, including a security guard who reported seeing pregnant employees suffering in the heat."

Sellers who use Amazon's fulfillment service were particularly concerned over the treatment of workers as well as the possible effects on their inventory stored there.

"Since I'm 100% FBA, I'm feel a little like Kathy Lee Gifford facilitating a sweat-shop for my gain," wrote one seller on the Amazon discussion board.

Another seller wrote, "My husband worked at this facility over the holidays and he feels that the constant push to get more and more work done in less and less time spells the kiss of the death for used books. When people are pressured like this they become careless."

And what about Amazon's FBA marketing messages about "temperature controlled warehouse," a seller wondered. On this Amazon page it states, "Your inventory is securely stored and managed in Amazon's climate-controlled fulfillment facilities and your customer orders are processed confidentially."

However, on the New York Times blog, one seller pleaded for shoppers who were upset with the workers' treatment not to boycott the company:

"Amazon's warehouse is only one component of it's commerce. There are thousands of merchants that ship from their own brick and mortar business along with small merchants that ship from home. A boycott would hurt those of us trying to make ends meet through through selling on Amazon. Please don't boycott!"

Another Times reader wrote, "the most unsettling news here is about the capricious and apparently random termination that takes place among the temporary staff somewhat regularly."

We asked Amazon for a reaction to the story. A spokesperson sent the following statement via email:

"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 FC's - 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 FC's so that we're prepared in case what we saw this past summer becomes the new normal."

Amazon's CEO is not unfamiliar with warehouse work - Jeff Bezos spent a week working at Amazon's Kentucky fulfillment centers in 2009. And it's not the first time Amazon.com's been accused of poor working conditions. The British newspaper site Times Online reported on grueling working conditions at the Amazon warehouse in the UK in 2008.

You can read the full newspaper article here, and let us know if what you think.

Update 9/23/11: Amazon published a statement on its website on Thursday to say it had installed industrial air conditioning units in four fulfillment centers, including the Breinigsville facility, that were operational by late July and early August. Not sure why it didn't include that information in its response to our inquiry this week. News comes via TechFlash.




Comments (30) | Permalink

Readers Comments

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: Jordan Malik
Web Site

Thu Sep 22 14:38:12 2011

Ina I interact with a couple dozen or so Amazon sellers around the U.S. (via user forums, email, and my sites FBAFinds.com and HonestOnlnieSelling.com) daily, and there has been a dramatic increase in the # of seller support issues (technical glitches in processing inventory, 'human' errors in shipping inventory, erroneous billing charges, expensive inventory items 'disappearing', etc.) I know Amazon is 'better' than that and I truly hope the management types shape up (and treat their workers humanely) while they're at it. If they don't, the bad PR and bad business that will ensue will end up being a big black-and-blue mark for them.

-Jordan Malik
Founder, HonestOnlineSelling.com
Founder, FBAFinds.com

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: anyone out there

Thu Sep 22 14:58:40 2011

Obviously no one has a clue here. How do you think that car your drive is made.

Auto plants in the summer get to 120 degrees on the assembly line and you don't hear anyone crying about the heat.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: Harriet This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 22 16:39:19 2011

Another company pulling a fast one on sellers who trusted that they would take good care of the merchandise they sent to them.

If they cannot take good care of their own employees, then what must be happening to books that are subject to mildew and other heat and moisture related problems, not to mention any other fragile items that they are storing.

If you care about your merchandise and your reputation, why would you entrust it to a company that is not going to take care of your merchandise? It will only reflect on you in the end.

I cannot understand why companies think this kind of thing is OK. It is really terrible.

What will happen to merchandise that is destroyed by these inactions and inconsiderate care.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: buck efay

Thu Sep 22 17:21:54 2011

If you want to boycott, boycott Fulfillment By Amazon sellers, not us little guys struggling to make ends meet, please. I pack & ship everything myself & guarantee you will get it exactly as described & stored in a temperature controlled environment on the main floor of my house.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

This user has validated their user name. by: silent anarchy

Thu Sep 22 17:58:32 2011

''by: anyone out there
     
Thu Sep 22 14:58:40 2011
Obviously no one has a clue here. How do you think that car your drive is made.        Auto plants in the summer get to 120 degrees on the assembly line and you don't hear anyone crying about the heat.''                                                                                                                                                                     To''anyone out there'' ,    You cant compare overly pampered UAW workers with excessive benefits to people that probaly dont get any benefits and a little above the minimum wage.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: Harriet This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 22 18:22:34 2011

I am sorry for any worker who has to work in ungodly circumstances.

And a car is not going to be damaged by excessive heat like books will.

This is a bad uncaring thing all the way around.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: another side of the coin

Thu Sep 22 18:46:12 2011

"Auto plants in the summer get to 120 degrees on the assembly line and you don't hear anyone crying about the heat"

Where are you getting your facts and how many auto plants actually have A/C?

Amazon placing workers in dangerous conditions IMO is akin to slave labor but without the whips and chains.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

This user has validated their user name. by: Ed Gadfly

Thu Sep 22 22:09:15 2011

Boycott Amazon!

Of course Amazon know what's going on - that's why they try to insulate themselves with a temp agency.

Enjoy your baked VHS tapes!

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: JohnGermaine

Fri Sep 23 00:22:15 2011

Amazon is just another evil corporation who only worries about the bottom line, nothing else. How sad that they take advantage of people in high unemployment areas and treat them badly. I don't do business with them myself, having heard stories about how they treat their employees in the past, they were rumors when I heard them, now I wonder if they were rumors.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: Been There, Done That

Fri Sep 23 00:27:10 2011

Unfortunately, This is Standard Operating Procedure for many Distribution Facilities, even here in the U.S. Bldg Managers and Operations Managers are pressed by Corporate to cut costs to the bone because a Distribution Center does not generate any income of it's own for the company. It is an expense.

The days of large core personnel resources have been replaced with smaller numbers, boosted by temporary workers who can be easily moderated in numbers during peak times and waiting in the wings during the slow times. Production and cost per piece are key, many temporary hire employees can not meet the demands and speed to needed to perform at the expected level by the distribution center.

The people value is more important than the product value. If Amazon would only consider that employees who work in comfortable conditions would produce more, they would see productivity rise dramatically. This in turn decreases expense to the corporation and reduces cost per piece and pieces processed per hour.

I worked in distribution for a huge nationwide retailer for many years  and understand the mechanics of it all, so I was very disappointed to see Amazon is so far behind the times. Trying to cut costs the way they are will only cost them more in the long run. Knowing this, I would have second thoughts about trusting them as the middleman between me and the buyer.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: Theo
Web Site

Fri Sep 23 00:34:26 2011

Everyone keep in mind that Amazon keeps dangling these "jobs" in front of politicians so they can keep evading sales tax collection all across the country. Amazon is so freaking greedy that they need to treat their warehouse workers as disposable parts AND illegally refuse to collect sales tax in order to bankrupt competitors like Borders.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: Red Ink Diary This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Fri Sep 23 02:09:48 2011

This is all over the only user forum I still visit, understandably so. I was fairly horrified by the article but not surprised. I would give the story about 75% on the credibility scale.

I have posted that not all Amazon sellers use FBA but unfortunately I foresee a backlash against the entire Amazon site, for a while, until the next scandal.

This is SOP for any large corporation in the USA, low wage non-unionized workers are a disposable commodity. Some middle management types are getting nice bonuses for driving productivity beyond the limits of feasibility while maintaining acceptable quality.

I noted a downturn in the packing on my last order of used paperback books which was FBA from Kentucky. I was surprised to see they were thrown in a fairly large box to rattle around.

While the conditions are undoubtedly bad, they are nothing compared to those routinely endured by immigrant farm workers picking tomatoes, melons, strawberries and other fragile crops in Alabama, Georgia, Arizona and other states. Work so hard it has been proved this last year, no American will tolerate it for more than a few hours.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: Red Ink Diary This user has validated their user name.

Fri Sep 23 02:17:26 2011

"for driving productivity beyond the limits of feasibility while maintaining acceptable quality."

This is poorly phrased. What I meant was there comes a point where quality of the job is subordinated to speed. You may be picking packing and shipping more but the loss/error ratio increases disproportionately

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: NullApps This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Fri Sep 23 02:38:29 2011

How can a company like Amazon advertise climate-control and then publicly admit to not having air-conditioning?  Isn't that false advertising?  To make matters worse you don't get to decide which warehouse your items go to so you have no way of guaranteeing you get them stored in the ones that are actually climate controlled.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Fri Sep 23 03:23:37 2011

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

What a hoot!

The number one priority of ALL corporations is to make money.

They can make money by cutting power consumption. Keep work places as cool as possible in the cooler months and as warm as possible in the warmer months.

It's the same basic rolling blackouts/power consumption reduction scheme ebay uses in their Draper server center only the target is human beings.

Copycat ebay will surely follow.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: Red Ink Diary This user has validated their user name.

Fri Sep 23 03:27:39 2011

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

Closely related to BaySpeak. The temps are not Amazon employees, they work for an agency.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: Rich(y)

Fri Sep 23 04:35:41 2011

A friend told me he went up to Seattle and arranged to see his fulfilled books in person. He was appalled---mouse droppings everywhere!

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: YouMadeTheCorporationsWhatTheyAre

Fri Sep 23 05:15:42 2011

Look at your printer, monitor, keyboard, everything you are using to get online to read this. WHERE WAS IT MADE? Do you realize the terrible working conditions other people have to endure so a corporation can sell you these products? ebay, Amazon, Walmart it makes no difference they are all competing for your money the only thing is the extent they are willing to go to to get it.

Solution:

If you want to spur the economy, be a "Green" shopper or have a social conscience buy from individuals and small businesses. Need a computer? Do you know how much pollution it takes to make a computer and get it on a store shelf. You should because you are breathing it all in with every breath. Go to Craigslist and find a good high end used one. You get to meet the people selling it and you can check it out and be satisfied before you buy it. Odds are it's better built and more reliable than what you can buy in a store. You save money giving you more disposable income, the seller makes money that will be pumped into the economy, no pollution is created since the system is 100% recycled. Same applies to cars, clothes, tools and many other items you need.

We are a nation of wasters, we want bigger, better and newer which is often far inferior to the good quality used items easily available. We complain about the way corporations abuse and cheat people then turn around and buy their products promoting more cheating and abuse.

When you deal with any corporation if you find they lie to you or violate their workers rights you shouldn't be shocked because you are dealing with an entity that sees only red or black ink, not a human with a conscience.

Boycotts and complaints are tools of lazy people to sorry to get off their dead *ss and make a difference.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: AngelaTC

Fri Sep 23 08:30:21 2011

Hey Amazon, I'm a hard worker who doesn't whine about low wages or poor working conditions.  I'd love a chance to work in one of your un-airconditioned warehouses.

Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses   Sellers Worried about Conditions in Amazon Warehouses

by: bennyb This user has validated their user name.

Fri Sep 23 09:07:27 2011

My brother started working at this wharehouse 1 month ago.  He was desparate after 2 years of umemployment.  He is 58 years old and does not believe he will be able to keep up with the rate demands. This job pays approx. /3 of what he was making in IT.  Be careful what you wish for AngelaTC - feel free to apply, they are ALWAYS hiring!

Our consumer lust for cheap goods and food and free shipping disregard the toll on humans and animals.  Few care until they are affected.

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