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Amazon's Warehouses Are Literally Sweatshops

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Ever wonder how Amazon (AMZN) keeps prices so low and ships your books and Blu-Ray discs so quickly? Certainly not by providing a living wage, health benefits, or a safe workplace to the people who pack them.

The Morning Call newspaper of Allentown, Penn., investigated working conditions at the online retail hegemon's Lehigh Valley warehouse, and the results were, well, quite a doozy. It seems a temp agency keeps the shop staffed with $11 and $12-an-hour workers, who endure a breakneck pace, constant threat of dismissal if they can't keep up, and Bikram yoga-like temperatures for a slim chance at a permanent job with Amazon.

Apparently when Amazon offers to bribe California with jobs to avoid paying sales taxes there, these are the sort of jobs it's talking about -- ones that require ambulances parked outside to cart away the casualties:

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.

Conditions are so bad that an ER doctor reported the plant to federal regulators as unsafe after treating several victims of heat trauma, leading to some improvements, such as fans and "2,000 cooling bandannas" for employees. How magnanimous, right? Unfortunately, Amazon, reportedly worried about theft, still wouldn't keep the loading docks open to let air circulate. One less-than-grateful temp likened the effect of the fans to "working in a convection oven while blow-drying your hair."

This isn't the first time Amazon has been accused of mistreating warehouse workers: The Times of London uncovered similar problems, though without so much heat exhaustion, in 2008.

Amazon refused to talk to The Morning Call about working conditions, but released at statement saying "the safety and well-being of our associates is our No. 1 priority.” Maybe someone forgot to tell the temp agency?
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.