Elmer Goris spent a year working in Amazon.com's Lehigh Valley warehouse, where books, CDs and various other products are packed and shipped to customers who order from the world's largest online retailer.
The 34-year-old Allentown resident, who has worked in warehouses for more than 10 years, said he quit in July because he was frustrated with the heat and demands that he work mandatory overtime. Working conditions at the warehouse got worse earlier this year, especially during summer heat waves when heat in the warehouse soared above 100 degrees, he said.
He got light-headed, he said, and his legs cramped, symptoms he never experienced in previous warehouse jobs. 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.
Over the past two months, The Morning Call interviewed 20 current and former warehouse workers who showed pay stubs, tax forms or other proof of employment. They offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it's like to work in the Amazon warehouse, where temperatures soar on hot summer days, production rates are difficult to achieve and the permanent jobs sought by many temporary workers hired by an outside agency are tough to get.
Only one of the employees interviewed described it as a good place to work.
Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.
During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn't quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.
Amazon.com's Lehigh Valley warehouse sounds like a Republican dream facility -- low-paid workers in unhealthy conditions. Just like the women who worked in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, before those pesky unions and "job-killing workplace safety regulations" were adopted. And yet this is what the American workplace is becoming once again -- a place where desperate people go to be mistreated day after day after day, with no hope of advancement, no hope of ever achieving the American Dream, living lives that are nasty, brutal, and short as they try desperately to survive....because if they don't, other equally desperate people will line up to do it.
You want to talk about class warfare? This is where it is -- in places like Amazon.com's Lehigh Valley warehouse, where the Thirty Years War against the middle class and the working poor is coming to fruition.