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Of the workers voicing concerns, 13 were employed by ISS and seven directly by Amazon.

'I couldn't breathe'

Amazon has two warehouses at the end of Boulder Drive in Breinigsville, where work is done that few customers ever see. Workers on the receiving side unload trucks and unpack boxes of incoming inventory, which they store in bins throughout the warehouses. On the outbound side, pickers scurry through the aisles gathering products from storage bins and bringing them to packers, who box them and ship them to customers.

Both permanent and temporary employees are subject to a point-based disciplinary system. Employees accumulate points for such infractions as missing work, not working fast enough or breaking a safety rule such as keeping two hands on an inventory cart. If they get too many points, they can be fired. In the event of illness, employees have to bring in a doctor's note and request a medical waiver to have their disciplinary points removed, those interviewed said.

Not working fast enough, or failing to "make rate, " is a common reason employees get disciplinary points, those interviewed said. Workers are expected to maintain a rate, measured in units per hour, which varies depending on the job and the size of inventory being handled. Products moving through the warehouse range broadly in size, from compact discs and iPods to chain saws. Workers use hand-held scanners to track inventory as it moves through the warehouse, which enables managers to monitor productivity minute by minute, employees said.

Goris, the Allentown resident who worked as a permanent Amazon employee, said high temperatures were handled differently at other warehouses in which he worked. For instance, loading dock doors on opposite sides of those warehouses were left open to let fresh air circulate and reduce the temperature when it got too hot, he said. When Amazon workers asked in meetings why this wasn't done at the Amazon warehouse, managers said the company was worried about theft, Goris said.

"Imagine if it's 98 degrees outside and you're in a warehouse with every single dock door closed, " Goris said.

Computers monitored the heat index in the building and Amazon employees received notification about the heat index by email. Goris said one day the heat index, a measure that considers humidity, exceeded 110 degrees on the third floor.

"I remember going up there to check the location of an item, " Goris said. "I lasted two minutes, because I could not breathe up there."

Allentown resident Robert Rivas, 38, said he left his permanent Amazon warehouse job after about 13 months to take another job. He said he intensified his job search in May after the warehouse started getting very hot.

"We got emails about the heat, and the heat index got to really outrageous numbers, " he said, recalling that the index during one of his shifts hit 114 degrees on the ground floor in the receiving area.

Rivas said he received Amazon email notifications at his work station when employees needed assistance due to heat-related symptoms. He estimated he received between 20 and 30 such emails within a two-hour period one day. Some people pushed themselves to work in the heat because they did not want to get disciplinary points, he said.

"When the heat index exceeded 110, they'd give you voluntary time off, " Rivas said. "If you wanted to go home, they'd send you home. But if you didn't have a doctor's note saying you couldn't work in the heat, you'd get points."

Some workers interviewed said that policy has changed.

During a July heat wave, Rivas said he felt he was going to faint. He went to an air-conditioned room for about half an hour and got drinks from safety workers in the warehouse.

"Then they said if you feel better you should go back to work, " Rivas said. "I was surprised that it happened to me because I heard the horror stories, but I never was a part of one. It was surprising to me. I thought they would treat their employees better."

Federal inspection

Heat prompted complaints about working conditions at Amazon to federal regulators who monitor workplace safety. The Morning Call obtained documents regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's inspection through the Freedom of Information Act.

On June 2, a warehouse employee contacted OSHA to report the heat index hit 102 degrees in the warehouse and 15 workers collapsed. The employee also complained that workers who had to go home due to heat symptoms received disciplinary points.

"The 102-degree heat index only applied to the first floor and not in regards to the second or third floor ... I just believe that it is gross negligence for a company of this capacity to abuse and enslave their workers, " the complaint states.

On June 3, OSHA told Amazon warehouse managers that the agency received a complaint about heat. OSHA officials said they did not plan to inspect the warehouse at that time, but wanted Amazon to investigate the situation, make any modifications needed to increase worker safety and report back to OSHA about its findings no later than June 13.

Source: www.mcall.com
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