June 6, 2012

Amazon spends millions so warehouse employees will chill out


Amazon, which was investigated for hot working conditions in its warehouses last year, is installing air conditioners at its warehouse in Upper Macungie. Photo by The Morning Call

Amazon is spending $52 million to upgrade its warehouses—including installing a twentieth century convenience called “air conditioning”—nine months after a scrappy local paper reported that worker conditions at a Pennsylvania fulfillment center were so dangerous that Amazon had ambulances parked outside “on hot days, with emergency medical personnel ready to take workers suffering from heat injuries to nearby hospitals.” Employees at the Amazon facility “were pushed to work at dizzying rates in brutal heat” with those “who didn’t move at a sufficient pace” facing termination. (For more, see this earlier MobyLives report.)

The newspaper that broke the story—Allentown’s The Morning Call—now has a brilliant follow-up, which says Amazon “recently installed 40 roof-top air conditioners in its 615,000-square-foot [Pennsylvania] warehouse, part of a $52 million investment in cooling its warehouses around the country.” It’s a staggering amount, equivalent to 8.2 percent of Amazon’s 2011 earnings, and shows the significant impact the Morning Call investigation has had.

In addition to the renovations, the series sparked public protests at Amazon headquarters and was recently addressed at an Amazon shareholder meeting by none other than Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

But details of the upgrades were hard fought: Amazon until recently refused any statement on the matter, forcing the Morning Call to obtain “warehouse building permits using Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law,” which showed that “Amazon first sought permits to install temporary air conditioning last July, several weeks after warehouse workers and an emergency room doctor who treated some of them for heat stress complained to federal regulators about conditions.”

Below, a Morning Call timeline documenting their laudable investigation.



Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.