Rumors about the working conditions at Amazon warehouses and on the delivery routes have circulated for years. Time off around the holidays, adequate breaks on shift and appropriate wages are all reportedly missing from the lives of some Amazon employees.
Some workers for the company are allegedly on food stamps and receive other federal assistance, but Amazon, like other large companies, doesn’t cover the cost of that assistance, and Senator Bernie Sanders wants that to change.
Sanders introduced a bill on September 5 that would tax employers, like Amazon, when their employees need federal benefits, like Medicaid and food stamps, to help cover the cost of those services. The bill is called the “Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act” or the “Stop BEZOS Act,” just like the Amazon CEO’s last name.
The lack of a living wage—the multibillion-dollar company pays some employees as little as $11 an hour Sanders said—is just one of the working conditions employees have revealed about the company.
"In the U.S., the average hourly wage for a full-time associate in our fulfillment centers, including cash, stock, and incentive bonuses, is over $15/hour before overtime," Amazon told Newsweek in a statement. That $15/hour is not the average wage, it's total compensation, Amazon clarified, meaning other factors like bonuses and stock options were factored in, in addition to actual wage. It's also specific to full-time employees.
Workers at Whole Foods, which was recently acquired by Amazon, are moving to unionize in the face of the acquisition due to Amazon’s reputation. Fear of layoffs, job automation, benefits and fair pay rollbacks were all factors that drove the decision to try to unionize, a letter from organizing employees said.
Amazon workers in the U.S. and around the world have also staged strikes on some of the biggest days for the company, like Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day.
While some employees do reap the benefits of the booming company, with health insurance, a living wage and paid sick leave, many part-timers do not. Employees have started posting their experiences working in Amazon warehouses to YouTube sharing first-hand accounts of the conditions.
Below are some of the conditions employees have revealed experiencing.
In 2015, a part-time employee at the Stoughton, Massachusetts, Amazon warehouse told WBZ that employees weren’t given the day off for Thanksgiving. The company operates as a shipment transportation hub, so it is not required to give employees the day off under the state’s Blue Laws like retailers would be.
Other employees have reported mandatory overtime, especially around the holiday season.
Deadlines So Tight, There’s No Time for Bathroom Breaks
An undercover investigation in the United Kingdom revealed that warehouse employees resort to urinating in bottles and trash cans around the warehouse so that they won’t miss their strict time targets.
After that investigation was published, more people came forward with similar stories. Some also told of their experiences with the lack of time for bathroom breaks, or even speaking to co-workers, according to Business Insider. Drivers have also reportedly used their vans as improvised bathrooms, urinating and defecating in them to meet their lofty delivery goals deadlines, the New York Post reported.
"We use our Connections program to ask associates a question every day about how we can make things even better, we develop new processes and technology to make the roles in our facilities more ergonomic and comfortable for our associates, and we investigate any allegation we are made aware of and fix things that are wrong," Amazon said in a statement in reference to allegations about working conditions in its warehouses.
Workers in Amazon's Staten Island facility who were pushing for a company-wide union said they were under pressure to pick up an item to package once every seven seconds, averaging 400 items per hour, The Guardian reported. Another worker at that facility reported working 60 hours during Prime week and getting in a car accident after falling asleep behind the wheel after a long shift.
A former Amazon employee who worked in an Amazon call center in Winchester, Kentucky, is suing the company for allegedly firing him over frequent bathroom breaks. The former employee, Nicholas Stover, says he suffers from Crohn's disease, an illness that he disclosed to Amazon during his initial hiring and that causes him to need bathroom breaks more frequently than Amazon permitted, he said.
Points-Based Systems of Attendance
Amazon has stated to publications that it no longer uses a points-based system for attendance. But as of May, one person who said they worked for Amazon at the time told Business Insider that the point system was still in place.
Injuries on the Job
Many employees worldwide have reported getting injured on the job. Some have pushed through while others have been taken away by ambulance. A reporter for the Mirror, Alan Selby, went undercover for five weeks and reported employees collapsing at work, suffering panic attacks, pulling muscles and more. A driver for a shipping company used by Amazon told Business Insider that when he accidentally slammed his hand in his van door, he was shamed at work and asked to finish his deliveries before seeking medical care.
The company has programs in place to train employees in safe work practices, it said. "While any serious incident is one too many, we learn and improve our programs working to prevent future incidents. We are proud of safety record and thousands of Amazonians work hard every day innovating ways to make it even better," Amazon said in a statement to Newsweek.
0n December 5, 2018, 25 warehouse workers at a New Jersey facility had to be transported to nearby medical facilities after a canister of bear repellant was punctured by one of the robots working in the warehouse. Workers now wear vests that can alert the robots working in the Amazon facilities to the immediate presences of human workers who could potentially be injured, Tech Crunch reported.
A woman in Illinois is suing the company on behalf of her husband who died on the job of a heart attack in January of 2017, the Chicago Tribune reported. The lawsuit Linda Becker filed said her husband, 57-year-old Thomas Becker, collapsed at work at the Joliet warehouse and that it took 25 minutes for anyone to call emergency services for medical attention for him.
This story was updated with information from Amazon.
This story will regularly be updated with complaints against Amazon.