For the past several months, online retail giant Amazon.com has been fighting tooth and nail to preserve its massive tax loophole in the state of California. The loophole allows the company to forego collecting $200 million a year in sales taxes, which helps it undercut more traditional retail outlets.
But that’s not the only way in which Amazon seeks to drive its prices ever lower: it has reportedly been pushing its employees to the breaking point in order to gain an edge. A new report by the Morning Call reveals that workers at an Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania were forced to work brutal hours in 100 degree temperatures and were constantly threatened with termination if their productivity waned:
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. [...]
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 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.
Interviews with more than 20 former workers paint the picture of a company with little regard for the welfare of its employees and that preyed on people’s desperation to keep their jobs during tough economic times. One former employee who worked in warehouses for 10 years commented that he had never experienced conditions so bad. “They can do that because there aren’t any jobs in the area,” he said.
Mandatory overtime is a common practice. Lax laws regulating workplace temperatures allow the company to get away with making workers keep up a grueling pace in 100 degree heat. Conditions are so bad at warehouses in the summer that Amazon has to have paramedics in ambulances standing by to treat workers who faint. Those who can’t recover quickly enough are taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs, and new applicants quickly take their place.
Instead of hiring a permanent workforce that expects raises and benefits, Amazon keeps a revolving door of temporary workers that it treats as dispensable cogs. Turnover is high and many workers don’t last more than a few months. Few temporary workers are ever hired full time — they’re just pushed harder to work faster until they are terminated or quit. Amazon has been plagued by lawsuits and allegations of employee abuse for years now.