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Amazon responds to allegations of substandard working conditions

Recent complaints at retail giant Amazon’s warehouse in Allentown, Pennsylvania, have spurred officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) to investigate allegations regarding extreme working conditions, with no workers’ compensation for injuries or heat-related illnesses. Most part-time employees will not complain, for fear of being fired.

Amazon hires through a staffing service, with a promise of potential permanent employment. Because of the lack of jobs, the alleged overworked and overheated employees push themselves hard in extreme conditions. Many have been transported to hospitals with heat-related illnesses.

Amazon officials stated they have done all they are required to do. They offer five-minute breaks every hour when the heat is extreme, along with cooling bandanas and cooling vests. Managers also check water availability.

Although low-wage, temporary workers are not likely to complain about job conditions or push for labor rights, OSHA states that employers do have obligations to temporary and part-time employees. The federal regulatory agency also states that employers have certain responsibilities during extreme weather conditions.

Labor experts note how Amazon’s size and competitive power provide it with significant leverage over employees during hard economic times. By hiring temporary workers from a huge job pool, the company saves money by being able to circumvent millions of dollars in costs that are associated with benefit outlays for permanent workers.

“They can get away with it because most workers will take whatever they can get with jobs few and far between,” notes one advocate for low-wage workers.

Related Resource: The Morning Call, “Inside Amazon’s Warehouse” Sept. 17, 2011