Sweatshop conditions at Amazon.comWhen you think of "sweatshop" work conditions, overseas factories and 60 Minutes exposes come to mind. But untenable work conditions in Pennsylvania -- at one of America's most beloved retail companies?

That's right. Some American Amazon.com (AMZN) employees have complained about sweatshop-like work conditions at the company's fulfillment center in Breinigsville, Pa., this past summer. In addition to alleging that temperatures rose to more than 100 degrees inside the warehouse (sweatshop, indeed), they also claim they've been overworked, told to step up the productivity, and that many of the workers are just temps, lacking sick pay and other benefits that could temper the tough expectations.

Such allegations could cast a pall on the joy of receiving an Amazon.com package on one's doorstep; they also bring up some disturbing thoughts that should make U.S. corporate leaders feel a bit hot under their designer collars.

Amazon.com's response pointed to the high temperatures this past summer on the East Coast, and the fact that it shelled out $2.4 million on "urgently installing industrial air conditioning units" in four facilities, including the Breinigsville center, all of which were working by late July or early August. Amazon.com also said that 850 of the temps at the Breinigsville center have been switched to full-time status this year.

The end of Amazon.com's response said, "[T]hose who know us well don't doubt our intent or our focus on employee safety."

The statement rings false given the aside in Amazon.com's note about the decision to shell out for air conditioning: "This was not mandated by any governmental agency, and in fact air conditioning remains an unusual practice in warehouses."
Really? Shouldn't companies operating in a supposedly decent society be required to provide simple air conditioning in a warehouse environment?

Just Do the Right Thing

This story may not be as much about Amazon as it is about U.S. corporate management teams getting a grip on themselves. Cutting costs should never, ever include subjecting human beings to uncomfortable or even brutal work conditions, whether it's here at home or abroad.

And let's face it, many American companies have shipped the "problem" of investing in decent work conditions overseas to save money and keep the ugliness out of our own backyards.

Things could get awfully hot for corporate managements who think that just because certain basic comforts aren't mandated by law, they're somehow unnecessary or simply "nice to have" instead of "need to have." Profiting from workers' misery is no way to run a good company.

Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax does not own shares of Amazon.com. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com.



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Ryan

The steel workers are "protected" by the union and they do not have air conditioners anywhere in their work environments. In fact, they rarely have much heat in the summer. The warehouse workers just need to stay hydrated and in good physical condition. To think that we have to air condition every single work environment that goes over 90 degress is rediculous! American workers are becoming more and more lazy and pathetic. We just want to take - take - take, but never even think about what a real day of work is. Just because your boss expects you to work for a living doesn't mean it is a sweat shop.

April 04 2012 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Christopher Cocca

Thank you for picking up and spreading this story. I live in the Lehigh Valley, where these warehouses are located. It's worth noting that similar sweatshop conditions have NOT been alleged at any of the other warehouses run by other companies near Amazon's Breinigsville fulfillment center. Just Amazon's. Fulfillment indeed.

September 28 2011 at 10:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dodie1990

What di you expect when there is no union to protect the employees. The employer will screw their employees(who they hate) as often as they can. Part-time, minimum wage, no benefit, no future jobs with bad treatment. This is the new normal in America. Sad

September 27 2011 at 6:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
matureharleyman

Is writer Lomax a reporter or a commentator? If she's a reporter she should stick to the facts and keep her damned opinion to herself. All that she needs to do is to bring me the facts (assuming that she has them and has verified them), and I'll form my own opinion about the specific story.

September 27 2011 at 3:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wil2660

I haven't seen one person posting here that knows what the hell they're talking about.

September 27 2011 at 2:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
trkr709

Funny how some here say the warehouse workers are spoiled because they want a decent envirorment to work in. I have worked in a warehouse and the back of a trailer on 100 degree days and can tell you it is brutal. But what I always found to be amusing is when the air condition breaks in the office they all clear out because its to hot to work. Now thats what I call whiners...These primadonnas wouldnt know a hard days work if it bit them in the butt....And you wonder why we can't compete with foreign countries..

September 27 2011 at 11:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jgriz2000

whine, whine, whine, alice. it's gotten to the point that a lot of americans simply don't want to work hard. they all want a huge salary for little work, a lot of time off, minimal education and skill requirements, and plenty of perks. and then people wonder why we aren't competitive in the world marketplace

September 27 2011 at 10:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
glitaliacazzo

ALL YOU TEA-BAGGERS AND REPUBLICANS..THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT AMERICA TO BECOME..PISS ANTS WORKING FOR PENNIES, IN HORRID CONDITIONS, WHILE YOUR MAJOR CORPORATIONS WHO SUPPORT YOU, KICK BACK AND COUNT YOUR MONEY..WHAT A SHAME..KEEP ATTACKING THE UNIONS, AND AMERICA WILL BECOME NOTHING BUT A WORKER DRONE SOCIETY, WHERE WORKING PEOPLE HAVE NO RIGHTS, AND NO HOPE. AS FOR ME. I HOPE WHEN THE TIME COMES, MY FELLOW MIDDLE CLASS WORKING MAN WILL BE READY TO TAKE IT TO THESE TEA BAGGING A** HOLES, AND PUT AMERICA BACK INTO THE HANDS OF THE WORKING MAN

September 27 2011 at 10:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
skantorco

Ms. Lomax, your bias in this article is as scary as calling Fox News news!
Mayube you can tell us how people got wet during a flood so the dike builders cut costs or maybe when a temp got to 10 below in South Carolina it was cold in a warehouse?
Weather anomolies cause difficult situations.....did you bother to check the conditions in the factrory where your keyboard was made or your underwear?
Stick with real news please and not some muckraking nonsense aimed at embarassing a US company. Let's be REAL clear US consumers demand low prices...US consumers have no concern on the place of manufacturing only the price!
I can prove this to you over and over..

So, please, as Jack Webb said "stick with the facts" and as a good reporter all the facts you can obtain just not the few you like the most to make your point.

Your comment is more than welcome!

September 27 2011 at 9:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
limerickbob

Sounds like the postal distribution facility I work at: Watson P&DC Fort Worth Texas

September 26 2011 at 11:06 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply