After a much blogged about expose revealed the borderline inhumane working conditions at Amazon's American shipping warehouses, the online retailer has made working in its facilities more humane. The same Allentown newspaper paper that ran original Amazon take down, The Morning Call, has checked in at the workplace nine months later and filed a follow-up report. Their finding: the warehouses are much improved. Motivated by bad press and worker backlash, Amazon invested $52 million in fitting 40 new, better air conditioning units in that infamous (and very steamy) warehouse, The Morning Call's Spencer Soper reports. Here are some of what workers told The Morning Call last September and now. Workers sound cheerier.
No need for ambulances, anymore.
Then: "One hot day, Goris said, he saw a co-worker pass out at the water fountain. On other hot days, he saw paramedics bring people out of the warehouse in wheelchairs and on stretchers," wrote The Morning Call's Soper.
Now: "I am very pleased to share that there does not appear to be a need to do so as they seem to have resolved any issue with intense heat to the best of our knowledge," Larry Wiersch, chief executive officer of Cetronia Ambulance Corps said. "It's nice to see them working to resolve concerns for the safety of their employees that work with them."
Breathing is no longer a concern.
Then: "I remember going up there to check the location of an item," Goris told Soper. "I lasted two minutes, because I could not breathe up there."
Now: "It's cool in there," one worker said. "The third floor used to be the hottest. Now it's the nicest."
Neither is extreme heat.
Then: "Imagine if it's 98 degrees outside and you're in a warehouse with every single dock door closed," Goris said.
Now: "I didn't even break a sweat today," another worker told Soper, after a 90 degree day. "It was really nice. I noticed the difference as soon as I walked in the door."
Though, the job is still physically demanding.
Then: "One former temporary warehouse employee said he worked seven months before he was terminated for not working fast enough. In his 50s, he worked 10 hours a day, four days a week as a picker, plucking items from bins and delivering them to packers who put them in boxes for shipment. He would walk 13 to 15 miles daily, he estimated, and was among the oldest pickers," explains Soper.
Now: "Work in the warehouse is physical, with many employees walking more than 10 miles per shift plucking items from shelves," writes Soper. Though, as we wrote back in March, Amazon acquired a robot company that would make work at Amazon's factory's less mobile and therefore less strenuous. But also less active, which some might see as a downside.
But, overall, workers just sound a lot happier. However, the investment might not have had everything to do with improving employee morale. "Amazon ships a lot of electronics and food now. It's not good to have that stuff in extreme temperatures," Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research told Soper. "I would like to think there was an element of humanity to the decision but there's nothing in Amazon's history or in Jeff Bezos' public persona that would lead me to think that was the driver of the decision. … Rarely has Amazon made any business decisions that didn't affect the bottom line." No matter the motivation, however, Amazon's warehouses have gotten a lot cooler.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.