It’s a new year. And for many of us, that means new resolutions. People trudge to the gym, start doing the dishes right after dinner, or tackle their messy closets. But what about companies? Shouldn’t they be resolving to do a little self improvement too? In the case of Amazon.com, the answer is painfully clear.
Last year, a series of articles in The Morning Call highlighted problems at an Amazon.com’s fulfillment center in Breinigsville, Pa. The most egregious charge—that last summer Amazon had forced employees to work in temperatures so high that the company kept ambulances parked outside—may already be resolved. After thousands of outraged customers wrote to Amazon’s CEO, Amazon announced its plans to install air conditioners in its warehouses.
But other serious problems at the warehouse remain, including forcing workers to stand outside for hours without coats in frigid temperatures during fire drills (several were treated in hospitals for exposure) and relying heavily on workers in precarious, temporary positions. These workers are asked to work at unreasonable and backbreaking speeds, and they endure the pain because they’re afraid of losing their jobs.
So this holiday season, more than 12,000 American Rights at Work activists pledged to do their shopping somewhere other than Amazon, signaling to the company that consumers are carefully watching how it treats its workers. As we kick off the new year, it’s the perfect time for Amazon to resolve to make changes as an employer. Here are just two ways the company can become a better employer in 2012:
1. Hire more permanent workers and provide them with good jobs and benefits.
Amazon relies on a company called Integrity Staffing Solutions (ISS) to find many of the workers for their warehouse in Breinigsville. Amazon and ISS won’t disclose how many temporary workers are employed at the warehouse or the turnover rate for employees. But the numerous temporary workers ISS hires are not entitled to the basic benefits a full-time position offers, including health care. It’s also virtually impossible for temporary workers to form a union to fight for those benefits or protections on the job.
Amazon is not the only company hiring more temps, of course. It’s a growing trend for U.S. companies to hire agencies to staff their distribution centers with temporary workers. That way, the company is freed of the its obligation to provide good jobs and benefits for its employees. But this isn’t the only way to do business. Amazon could follow Costco’s lead and simply not hire temporary workers. “We tend to not outsource even if we could save money by doing it,” says Richard Galanti, Costco’s chief financial officer. “We recognize it might cost more but we think it’s the right thing to do.”
2. Set a safe and realistic pace of work for all employees—temporary or permanent.
Of the 20 current and former workers Spencer Soper interviewed for his original article in The Morning Call, only one said Amazon’s warehouse was a good place to work, and nearly all stated that the company enforced productivity levels that were physically unsustainable. Because jobs are scarce, it’s easy to replace any worker who can’t maintain the backbreaking speed the company demands. To increase its bottom line, Amazon uses these workers as expendable, interchangeable parts in the machine that sends products to our doors,. But the real bottom line is that these workers are people—people with families who rely on them for a paycheck, physical limitations to how many items they can “pick” in an hour, and the right to safe working conditions.
The coming months will reveal whether Amazon resolves to change for the better, but they know now that their customers are paying attention. As for us? Our New Year’s resolution is to continue to hold companies accountable for how they treat their workers. We hope you’ll join us!