According to California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su, “Warehouse workers do some of the most backbreaking jobs in our economy. Their work is often hidden from public view and there is constant pressure to work faster, which can lead to abuse.”
Anyone who has had the experience of working even one summer in a warehouse knows this is true. Ownership feels as if they can treat this group of workers in any manner because their actions are out of sight. However, anyone who exploits workers will eventually see their name in print for all of the wrong reasons. This is currently happening across the country as labor officials in multiple states are stepping up to protect warehouse workers. According to the Los Angeles Times, conditions were less than acceptable at an Amazon.com warehouse in Allentown, PA so Elmer Goris quit his job:
The 34-year-old said he quit in July because he was frustrated with the heat and demands that he work mandatory overtime. Working conditions at the warehouse near Allentown, Pa., got worse earlier this year, especially during summer heat waves when temperatures in the warehouse soared above 100 degrees, he said.
One hot day, Goris said, he saw a co-worker pass out. On other hot days, he saw paramedics bring people out of the warehouse in wheelchairs and on stretchers.
“I never felt like passing out in a warehouse and I never felt treated [so terribly] in any other warehouse but this one,” Goris said.
When it was originally announced that Amazon would open a large warehouse in Allentown, locals warmly greeted the new jobs. But many have since changed their mood towards the warehouse. Over 20 current and former workers have publicly complained about conditions.
“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.”
In our current economic situation these jobs are more valuable than their low pay would indicate, in that they exist at all. Workers are most likely to be exploited at times when they have relatively few alternative choices for employment. According to the LA Times article:
“In a better economy, not as many people would line up for jobs that pay $11 or $12 an hour in a hot warehouse. But Amazon and Integrity Staffing Solutions, the temporary employment firm that is hiring workers for Amazon, have found eager applicants. Employment ranges from about 900 to 2,000 during peak season, sources say.
They can get away with it because most workers will take whatever they can get with jobs few and far between,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project.”
California is a state in which the government is getting involved in defending warehouse workers rights, specifically when it comes to the way warehouse workers are paid. According to a California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) press release,
“In California, employers are required to provide basic protections for workers that include payment of at least minimum wage, overtime and workers compensation coverage,” said DIR Acting Director Christine Baker. “Our efforts ensure that employers who follow the law have a fair and competitive market to do business in and we will hold accountable those who undercut competition at the expense of their workers.”
Impact Logistics, Inc. was issued a $499,000 citation for failure to provide itemized wage statements to employees. They were also issued a Notice to discontinue labor law violations for failure to maintain time records. Premier Warehousing Ventures was issued a Notice to discontinue reporting time violations and other violations. “Our investigation is ongoing,” said California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su. “We will assess all wages owed to the workers and work with the employers to ensure compliance going forward.”
If you are a Warehouse Worker who needs their voice heard or if you would like to learn more about how to help workers who are being exploited please visit Warehouse Workers United or Warehouse Workers for Justice for more information.