Amazon.com – Sweatshop 2.0

Amazon is dealing with a growing PR and business crisis. Amazon got caught forcing warehouse workers to work in brutal, health-threatening conditions.

The true question here is, “Would Amazon have agreed to install air conditioners in their Pennsylvania warehouse if an industrious reporter hadn’t written about the appalling conditions in Amazon’s warehouses?” I don’t think they would have. 

A couple of caveats or notes:

1. I’m a long-time Amazon user. And when I say I use Amazon, I’m a SERIOUS Amazon user. I ordered a 36-inch screen TV from Amazon in the late 1990s the first day they debuted their electronics store. Wow. That was an experience. They were using contract delivery companies. These two guys showed up to my apartment in Brooklyn, and I had to help them lug a monstrously heavy TV up 3 flights of stairs. 

I order lots of staples from Amazon – toilet paper, etc. – from their Ship and Save program.

2. I make money from Amazon. I publish eBooks via Delabarre Publishing, and I publish via Amazon Kindle.

With that out of the way, the conditions in Amazon’s warehouses are truly horrific. If you haven’t read the original Morning Call story, it’s worth a read.

I’ll recap a couple of the things that leaped out at me.

1. They start every shift by threatening to fire workers if they can’t keep up. Imagine that.

2. They hire boatloads of temporary employees with a promise of full-time Amazon employment with requisite benefits. Then, as these guys bust their asses to try and make full-time, Amazon management does things like double their metrics overnight. If you have to pick 250 items per day, suddenly they say, “You now have to pick 500 items per day.” And the full-time goal gets further and further away.

3. Amazon would routinely line up ambulances outside their warehouses to cart off workers who collapsed from heat exhaustion. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. 

4. Until this story appeared and customers started complaining, Amazon refused to install A/C inside their warehouses.

Here’s a few things that I think about Amazon.

1. I’m completely serious here. They should hire Tony Dungy immediately and implement his suggestions for coaching and leadership. Again, I’m not joking. Tony Dungy is a Super Bowl-winning coach – who won games without the histrionics, screaming and intimidation common among football coaches. He could teach Amazon management a thing or two about inspiration leadership.

2. This is the most important issue here. Many people, including Warren Buffet, have said, the true content of a person or company’s character and intentions is what they do when no one is looking. When there’s no possibility of someone knowing about your actions, how do you act? Well, sadly, we know now how Amazon acts when no one is looking.

I’m 100% convinced if this article had not been published, no air conditioner would have been installed.

3. For the next 6 months, Jeff Bezos and Bezos’ wife and children should spend 1 day a week working on the front lines of Amazon’s Pennsylvania warehouse. Subjected to the insane metrics for getting a full-time Amazon job, subjected to the threats of being fired at the beginning of every shift, subjected to the brutal, suffocating heat.

Amazon, Bezos, the ball is in your court. What will your next step be? Will we get more platitude-filled press releases? Or will your company use this opportunity for true change in the way that you treat your warehouse workers?