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Media blasts Amazon for lack of air conditioning

Posted by on Apr 12, 2012

(April 12, 2012)

Last week, Amazon hit the news feeds of web-users across the nation for its treatment of employees and small booksellers and its lack of involvement in the Seattle community.

Some Amazon workers have complained that their warehouse jobs have pushed them to their limits in order to keep up with production. Production is key to Amazon, but it becomes difficult for employees to be efficient and effective when they work in challenging conditions.

Some of Amazon’s older warehouses have no air-conditioning, like those in Allentown, Penn. and Campbellsville, Kent. Several of these workers suffered from heat-related illnesses.

The Seattle Times reported that Amazon has more than 15,000 full-time employees in warehouses around the nation called “fulfillment centers.” Some of these employees reported poor working conditions inside those fulfillment centers, garnering a lot of media attention.

Paul Grady, a former Amazon warehouse employee, once complained that a warehouse safety worker in Allensville ordered him to tell emergency workers that his hip injury was not work-related when it in fact was.

Elmer Goris spent one year working in the same warehouse. He said he quit because he couldn’t stand the unbearable working conditions and mandatory overtime. Goris even witnessed some of his coworkers pass out at a water fountain and reported that he had nearly fainted himself.

“I never felt like passing out in a warehouse and I never felt treated like a piece of crap in any other warehouse,” Goris told the Seattle Times.

Last year, the high temperatures inside the warehouse in Allensville caused 15 people to collapse in a single day, resulting in a federal inspection that demanded changes to warehouse policies.

Amazon issued a recent statement regarding warehouse safety soon after, which read in part:

“Since we ship hundreds of millions of packages a year, employ tens of thousands of associates, and record millions of work hours, it isn’t possible to accurately portray the effectiveness of our procedures with anecdotes. To accurately reflect our operations, any reporting must focus on examining our safety record as measured against relevant industry benchmarks.”

Though many employee anecdotes that have surfaced are manifested as online complaints, not all of Amazon’s employees share the same negative experience.

Kevin Mooers, a Finance and Business Economics double major at Seattle University, was a Financial Analyst Intern for the Merchant Services department. In this position, he helped third party sellers, the dealers that students purchase textbooks from if they are not sold directly by Amazon.

Mooers noted that the experience he had at Amazon was quite positive, highlighting what he described as an extremely supportive and helpful team.

Mooers was unable to shed light on Amazon’s treatment of small booksellers since his work was largely unrelated to them, though many news sites have covered the issue of Amazon’s reportedly harsh treatment of book publishers and questionable market research tactics, including a promotion last December that encouraged Amazon customers to scan the prices of books at local bookstores in order to receive a discount on Amazon.

Independent booksellers’ already thin profit margins are increasingly at risk as Amazon’s demand for deeper discounts grows and customers demand lower prices.

McFarland & Co. was one of the independent publishers that received an unfortunate email from Amazon requesting to buy their books at 45 percent off the cover price, almost double its current price break.

“If we made a change for Amazon, we’d have to do it for everyone, and that would jeopardize our business. We couldn’t exist like that,” said Karl-Heinz Roseman, director of sales and marketing at McFarland.

The same happened with Karen Christensen, CEO of Berkshire Publishing Group, an independent publisher of professional and academic books.

When she refused to give in to Amazon’s demand for a larger discount than the previously established discount of 40 percent off the cover price, Amazon stopped placing orders. Amazon orders accounted for 19 percent of her business.

Amazon’s 397 percent stock increase in the last five years led to its CEO Jeff Bezos being named America’s best chief executive by Forbes. Bezos earns an average of $1.4 million annually.

Despite their financial success, criticism from companies that do business with Amazon and Bezos remains high.

Publishers rarely find fault with companies they do business with, but those who have dealt with Amazon’s demands often describe the company as aggressive and leaving no room for discussion. These demands are typically made in emails with no personal contact information provided.

Amazon’s perceived unwillingness to dialogue with outsiders extends far beyond their collaborators.

Last year, many large Seattle companies donated large sums of money to the United Way of King County during its economic troubles. Microsoft donated $4 million, Boeing sent $3.1 million and Nordstrom gave almost $320,000. All of Seattle’s large corporations contributed — except for Amazon.

Bezos has been widely reported to subscribe to libertarian ideals. Libertarian economist Milton Friedman famously argued that the sole responsibility of corporations is to generate profit, and that corporate giving at the expense of shareholders is akin to theft.

Many nonprofit officials and other business leaders in the community have also noted that it can be difficult to find someone at Amazon to talk to them.

Amazon’s smiling logo can be seen on millions of boxes around the globe, but none can be seen on a single building in its new campus in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

Though the company’s level of philanthropy remains low, Amazon is the world’s largest Internet retailer, generating revenues beyond $48 billion a year and employing more than 56,000 people worldwide.

The Spectator
by Chelsee Yee