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PAGING UPTON SINCLAIR: Workers Say Amazon Is Running A (Literal) Sweatshop In The Lehigh Valley

amazonslaves.jpgTHE MORNING CALL: Elmer Goris spent a year working in Amazon.com‘s Lehigh Valley warehouse, where books, CDs and various other products are packed and shipped to customers who order from the world’s largest online retailer. The 34-year-old Allentown resident, who has worked in warehouses for more than 10 years, said he quit in July because he was frustrated with the heat and demands that he work mandatory overtime. Working conditions at the warehouse got worse earlier this year, especially during summer heat waves when heat in the warehouse soared above 100 degrees, he said. He got light-headed, he said, and his legs cramped, symptoms he never experienced in previous warehouse jobs. One hot day, Goris said, he saw a co-worker pass out at the water fountain. On other hot days, he saw paramedics bring people out of the warehouse in wheelchairs and on stretchers. “I never felt like passing out in a warehouse and I never felt treated like a piece of crap in any other warehouse but this one,” Goris said. “They can do that because there aren’t any jobs in the area.” Goris’ complaints are not unique. 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. Only one of the employees interviewed described it as a good place to work. Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said. During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time. MORE

GIZMODO: And these reports are not isolated to the 20 employees interviewed by The Morning Call. Numerous employees and security guards at Amazon complained to OSHA about these conditions. Even the local emergency room supposedly reported Amazon to federal regulators because it treated so many employees for heat-related illness. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: A reporter for the Times who spent seven days as an elf at one of Amazon’s UK warehouses found workers weren’t allowed to take sick leave, faced mandatory overtime, infinitesimal breaks and other sweatshop-y conditions. The undercover Sunday Times reporter took a temp seasonal position as a packer for seven days, where they found some pretty shocking Martha Stewart-worthy working conditions:

•No sick leave, even with a doctor’s note—you get a penalty point, and after six you’re fired
•Mandatory 10.5-hour overnight shift at the end of every five day week
•Ridiculous quotas, like packing 140 Xbox 360s an hour—and we all know how much those things weigh
•”Made to walk up to 14 miles a shift to collect items for packing”
•Two breaks per eight-hour shift, only 15 and 20 minutes long each, with bathroom breaks requiring permission MORE

RELATED: Upton Beall Sinclair Jr. (September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968), was an American author who wrote close to 100 books in many genres. He achieved popularity in the first half of the 20th century, acquiring particular fame for his 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle. It exposed conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry, causing a public uproar that contributed in part to the passage a few months later of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.[1] Time magazine called him “a man with every gift except humor and silence.” MORE

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