Amazon workers at a Tennessee warehouse say they’re regularly required to work full 10-hour shifts inside dangerously overheated trailers, whose temperatures soar as high as 145 degrees.
Employees at Amazon’s MEM4 facility in Memphis, who agreed to speak anonymously out of fear of company retaliation, said they’re assigned to unload packages in unventilated trailers for their full day shifts. Amazon offers workers one bottle of water per 10-hour shift and does not provide time for additional water breaks.
More alarmingly, the employees said, Amazon regularly ignores a rule that requires workers to be rotated out of the trailers every 2 hours, and another rule that prohibits workers from unloading a truck alone. Both company policies are routinely overlooked in the interest of productivity, one worker told More Perfect Union.
When employees notified management about the extreme heat, Amazon safety inspectors were dispatched to assess the situation, they said, but no subsequent action was taken. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
During a recent heat wave that pushed temperatures into the triple digits in many U.S. cities, an Amazon employee in Memphis recorded the heat in his trailer at 145.5 degrees.
Environmental heat is likely responsible for 170,000 work-related injuries every year and for between 600 and 2,000 worker deaths annually, according to a recent Public Citizen analysis.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – the U.S. agency responsible for workplace standards – notes that outdoor workers have died of heat stroke in conditions where the heat index was only 86 degrees.
OSHA still does not have mandatory national rules to protect workers against excessive heat. It began the years-long process of creating heat safety regulations last October, but “is bogged down by a lack of resources, strong industry opposition and bureaucratic procedures that can span decades,” former OSHA official Jordan Barab recently told NBC News.
Another worker at the Memphis facility, who has been seriously injured while working at other warehouses, noted that many of the conditions that led to his previous injuries are also present at this Amazon warehouse. He described large pallets of items dangling overhead in the trailers that could crush him or one of his coworkers, and large gaps between the trailers and the loading docks which someone could slip between and get seriously injured.
High injury rates at Amazon warehouses have helped spur the recent wave of workers seeking to unionize.
Employees at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, NY, won their union election earlier this year, while a re-run election at a Bessemer, AL warehouse was unsuccessful. In recent weeks, workers at warehouses in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Albany, NY, have gone public with new union organizing drives.