New Year’s resolutions for Amazon.com

Amazon logoIt’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!

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 at 3:56 pm and is filed under General, Jobs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

25 Responses to “New Year’s resolutions for Amazon.com”

  1. Gabriel Lopez says:

    Let’s don’t be so harsh on American companies employing American people. Let’s just take a look at Detroit, MI. We were being harsh to the companies and now the town is basically dead. I agree with sending requests form all of us who shop at Amazon but stop business means stop generating business.

    Just a thought!.

    Gabriel

  2. David Twait says:

    Until you.change the way you treat your workers I will refrain from using Amazon unless the is no good alternative. This Christmas I bought several items from other vendors!

    Dave

  3. Carol Henderson says:

    So Gabriel, it’s okay to treat employees horrible as long as it’s American Companies doing it to American Employees???? I don’t think so. It’s wrong on all levels.

    Rethink your comments.
    Carol

  4. mara obelcz says:

    I disagree with not being harsh on American employers…when labor finally got a fair shake in this country, it was due to the spilling of blood. The auto industry got into trouble for failing to improve its product, not wages and benefits or osha regs. Same may be said for steel. Good employers make good profits and good neighbors. We need a worldwide minimum standard of living to create markets and free FAIR trade. Lopsidedness with a “consumer” nation and slave wage worker nations is a self defeating business

  5. Carol Henderson says:

    I forgot to add: I don’t shop at Amazon and I don’t intend to shop there.
    Carol

  6. Ms Hekate says:

    I have stopped shopping at Amazon and have informed them that I will not shop there until they reform their employment practices. Yes, it is a bit inconvenient. More important to me, though, is doing everything possible to restore appropriate labor practices-the ones our grandparents and parents worked so hard and sacrificed so much to insure.

  7. Bob Bingenheimer says:

    Gabriel… “we were being harsh to the auto companies”? In what way? By asking them to produce better, more fuel-efficient cars like their more successful competitors around the world? That’s fairly ridiculous. By their unions demanding a liveable wage, the kind of wages and benefits that built the middle class in this country? I think not.

    Except, unlike every other civilized country which has universal healthcare paid by taxes, we saddled them with $2000 per vehicle in healthcare costs which hurt their competitiveness. If we really wanted to help the auto companies, or to help businesses of all sizes today, we would move to Single Payer healthcare. France, which has single payer, and also the highest quality healthcare system in the world, spend half the amount per capita we do, and EVERYONE is covered. And businesses don’t have to pay those healthcare costs out of their operating revenues.

    The effort to get Amazon and others to provide liveable wage jobs in a safe, place, working at a sustainable pace is nothing more than what we should expect from all employers. We need to have dis-incentives to shipping jobs overseas, where the populations have not had the power to enact requirements for a liveable way and safe working conditions… we need to help those people raise their standards, not lower ours.

  8. Robin Price says:

    As a foreigner who follows your employment relations practices with interest, I just note that companies only do ( the vast majority of the good ones anyway) exactly what employment legislation allows them to. if the government decided to legislate to disallow precarious casual and contracts from existing, then no country would have this issue. Unfortunately governments need to keep business onside and choose to listen to their whinges that ‘we can’t afford to pay decent wages and still compete’ and ‘we need the flexibility that casual and contract workers offer to meet fluctuations in demand’, so workers suffer. Most countries allow companies to treat labour like a just-in-time factor of production, so the individual worker bears the cost of flexibility. We need to change our thinking about this on a global scale.

  9. Bill L says:

    I will not shop @ Amazon, or wall mart ,or target I do real good at the local used bookstore an an the PUBLIC Library I do buy LOCAL And Yes im a Climate hawk

  10. Beth says:

    Another thing that Amazon could do is pay publishers a fair price for carrying their books. As small press publisher who works her butt off to edit, design, and market poetry and short fiction, I am disgusted that Amazon takes a 55% rake-off via their associate program. If the cut were fair, I’d have more dollars to invest in getting brave new work out into the world.

  11. Lori says:

    Beth, as someone who vigorously defends creativity as an honorable way to make a rewarding, comfortable, dependent-free living, I definitely feel your pain. The unfortunate reality is, the average citizen wanting to be entertained just to keep their own sanity in check will pay the lowest prices possible to get what they want, even if they have the means to pay what is considered “top dollar” for it. That’s why behemoths such as amazon.com have succeeded so well. That said, the most common forms of entertainment out there sold by amazon and other behemoths are indeed worthless to any thinking, feeling human. We, as a society, need to change our attitudes about what we consider entertainment in order to place a hard-earned, honest value on our culture. Small presses such as yours deserve to thrive.

  12. David Smith says:

    Good for Carol.I haven`t bought from amazon in months, they seem to be like walmart.Watch the DVD of “Walmart-The high cost of low prices”.
    I won`t buy from amazon until they change their slave labor practices.
    Gabriel should move to China,he is certainly unamerican or just highly
    ignorant.

  13. George says:

    We need federal labor reform legislation that would end the category “temporary” labor, thereby obliging employers to treat all employees equally for health and retirement benefits.

    Labor reform legislation is also needed to put domestic labor costs on an even playing field with places outside of the country that allow sub-standard wages and benefits. Import Tariffs should be imposed on goods produced at labor costs below ours. This regulation should apply especially to multinational corporations

  14. Jack says:

    I have a problem. I got an Amazon gift card for Christmas. I do not want to shop at Amazon. I do not want to be a customer in their database. By not using the card I make that statement. BUT - Amazon already has the money. By not using the card I’m doubling their “investment.”
    SO - what do I do with this card so it’s use will help make the statement that we should have fair and equitable working conditions for all, then they can have all the free market competition they want. One’s about people, the other’s about business. Calvin Coolidge had it wrong - “The business of America is people.”

  15. Ellen Franzen says:

    If Amazon was run by decent people, you wouldn’t have to make these suggestions. Its actions and treatment of employees speak for themselves. There is no reason for people to patronize them.

  16. William L. Quigley says:

    I am an Amazon seller with his inventory stored in the Breiningsville, PA warehouse. I am sorely disappointed in Amazon’s treatment of its employees. Excessive heat, mandatory overtime (was it at least paid overtime and paid at a rate of time and a half?), use of temporary employment to drive employees harder and prevent the forming of a union. Amazon should be ashamed.

    I urge consumers to stop buying from Amazon until these practices cease completely and permanently. I encourage my fellow sellers to pressure Amazon. Also, I hope that the employees there organize a union and exercise their right to bargain collectively.

  17. Cyril Hammond says:

    Come on Amazon, that’s the least you should be addressing this year. How about sitting down with staff representaives, ideally Trade Union reps and negotiating a decent contrat of employment, and this can be negotiated for temporary staff also.
    Yours sincerely

    Cyril Hammond
    UK

  18. Helen Gjessing says:

    My son and I own a small bookshop, so of course, we have never patronized Amazon. In addition to mistreating workers, Amazon has been No. 1 contributor of the demise of book stores all over the United States.

  19. Veronica says:

    Because of this campaign, I didn’t do any of my holiday shopping at Amazon.com and haven’t bought anything else there since. I’ve bought products from many other sellers, who by the way, offer comparable goods and prices. We have to stand up to greedy corporations looking to squeeze everything they can out of workers. It’s the right thing to do.

  20. Matt Litten says:

    Okay, I worked at the Indianapolis site for 13 months. First as an Integrity employee and then “converted” to Amazon. What we call a blue badge. I worked through pain day in and out as did my fellow colleagues. I eventually developed Carpel Tunnell because of the high “rate” dictated by Amazon. They refuse to offer alternative work even if you are in pain.

    Please do not shop at Amazon.com. This is modern day slavery. The people that work there aren’t lazy, but the company is heartless. I know there are worse warehouses out there, but Amazon does not care about its employees - period.

  21. Linda A. says:

    To: David Smith

    I’m familiar with that DVD: “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices,” I think I may even have watched it. Bully to those who can afford to shop elsewhere; if I could, I would, too. But, if it weren’t for Walmart, I wouldn’t be able to afford much of anything, and I’m certainly not alone. There are so many of us who have to closely watch our pennies.

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