2011 September 24 Saturday
Amazon.com Hot Warehouse Sends Many To Hospital

Disgusting.

Workers in an Amazon.com warehouse were routinely sent to the emergency room because of sweltering, suffocating heat that sometimes exceeded 110 degrees — and because Amazon refused to open warehouse doors, fearing theft, according to a devastating exposé in the Allentown, Pennsylvania Morning Call. After workers, an E.R. doctor and a security guard complained, federal regulators investigated the warehouse and recommended changes. Amazon responded with popsicles, bandanas and finger pointing.

This isn't just immoral. It is stupid too. I mean, imagine you had a really hot work place and people were dropping and getting carted off to a hospital. Wouldn't you do something about it given that this is not the 19th century? Is it really that hard to cheaply prevent heat strokes from happening?

This past summer, at least 15 were set to the hospital by ambulance, with another 20 to 30 treated by paramedics on site.

What does it say about the marginal value of manual laborers in America in 2011 that a major company would treat its workers like this? Some of you are too young to have first hand experience, but rising living standards and better work conditions used to be considered normal. In the post-WWII well until the 1970s every year living standards went up. Dangerous workplaces were expected to eventually disappear except where the work was inherently dangerous such as with Alaska deep water fishing or being a cop. But Amazon in 2011 has managed to make fairly simple warehouse labor dangerous.

Some really cheap things could have been done to cut the incidence of heat-caused collapses:

  • Icy drinks delivered around regularly.
  • Wearable jackets of ice cold liquids.
  • Hats containing ice cold liquids.

Then then there's the warehouse:

  • Fans blowing heavily on the workers.
  • Dehumidifier to speed up skin sweat evaporation.
  • Even partial air conditioning to lower the temperature below whatever level needed to stop the ambulance trips.
  • A cold room for breaks. Someone who worked for Aramco in Saudi back in the late 1970s told me they used heavily cooled mobile homes for this purpose.

But in the minds of Amazon management these warehouse workers do not rate for any of that.

America has much farther to fall. Manual laborers will continue to experience declining living standards. In America the median household income peaked in 1999 and is now down 7% from that peak. 12 years of rising productivity? Big benefits from Moore's Law, faster fiber optic cables, denser hard drives, smart phones, and the internet? Nope.

Let me underscore this point: compared to its peak in 1999, median household income is down down $3,800 (2010 dollars), more than 7%. The decline is even more dramatic for non-elderly households, those headed by someone less than 65 years old. That value peaked in 2000, and rose only 1 year since then. It’s down $6,300, or 10% since then, including last year’s decline of 2.6% ($1,500), the largest on record going back to 1987.

As living standards decline so do working conditions. Dear readers I implore you again: Raise your game. Get better at what you do or learn to do something more valuable. You will need to raise your game just to stay at your current living standard. Too many pressures are working against a return to rising living standards.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 September 24 06:30 PM  Economics Labor


Comments
bbartlog said at September 24, 2011 8:07 PM:

I'm not so sure that wearable jackets of ice cold liquids are actually a cheap solution, though I imagine they'd be cheaper than air conditioning. Also, fans and dehumidifier, while effective in terms of preventing actual heatstroke, would likely increase the incidence of dehydration and mineral-imbalance related illness. All that said, I have to think that you're right and that there are surely simple solutions that Amazon has been too blockheaded to implement.
Some small part of the blame should be laid at the feet of the EEOC, though. You could mitigate this problem by only hiring 20-something men, perhaps favoring blacks assuming they were otherwise capable. If Amazon were aware of the conditions and were *allowed* to discriminate against pregnant women, they likely would have.

Make Believe Media said at September 24, 2011 8:56 PM:

If the shit hits the fan and power and food supplies go out for any appreciable time, then things will get real bad.

A.Prole said at September 25, 2011 1:24 AM:

Two points:

It is uncontrolled immigration (as advocated by the WSJ 'The Economist' and both Republican and Democrat parties, that is ultimately responsible.
Simple law of supply and demand.Eg ants are worthless because the world has billions of ants.

Secondly, Americans who post here and elsewhere often make a big show about pontificating about 'slave labor' and low safety standards in China.I'll wager that working conditions #if not wages!# are higher now in Shanghai than in the USA.

Abelard Lindsey said at September 25, 2011 8:08 AM:

Amazon operates by the asshole management principle.

223 said at September 25, 2011 9:26 AM:

"If the shit hits the fan and power and food supplies go out for any appreciable time, then things will get real bad."

NOLA, here we come!

europeasant said at September 25, 2011 11:34 AM:

In the paint factory/warehouse I worked in the late 1960's early 1970's the heat in the summertime was unbearable.After working only 15 min at the start of the the morning shift I was mostly soaked in sweat.The company provided us with salt pills and water.I don't recall anyone ever needing medical assistance except for the few times when parts of fingers were cut off or other bruises occurred.While serving in the army(peacetime)a few people were killed and injured but the V.A would take care of your dependents.

Suzy said at September 25, 2011 1:08 PM:

I do not agree with that AMAZON not take sufficient precautions and endanger the lives of workers to the extent of taking them to hospital for the sole reason of not wanting to open the door to store them between ventilation and no desidraten with the intense heat by passing in there are supposed to have in-store surveillance and the resources to be either have to take other measures do not let unimportant things just because they are not exposed to these damages as it they are only interested in profits. Should have air conditioning and all the essentials for the type of work, I think we would have to constantly give them water and having the right equipment for the job, a fresh uniform not to cause sunstroke or other damage.

Abelard Lindsey said at September 25, 2011 3:26 PM:

Is A.C. so expensive that Amazon cannot afford to cool its warehouses while people are working in them? This sounds like asshole management to me.

Bryan Garduño Posadas said at September 25, 2011 6:49 PM:

AMAZON in my opinion should eat more into account the safety of their workers at risk only for fear of theft, should not endanger the lives of other people for something so absurd or at least more proportionate loscuidaran nesesiario for this team work.

kate said at September 25, 2011 7:03 PM:

I'm not so sure that wearable jackets of ice cold liquids are actually a cheap solution, though I imagine they'd
be cheaper than air conditioning. Also, fans and dehumidifier, while effective in terms of preventing actual heatstroke,
would like increase.

Randall Parker said at September 25, 2011 7:36 PM:

A.Prole,

I think at least 4 factors are at work:

- Immigration increases the supply of low skilled workers.

- Shifting work to foreign factories cuts demand for low skilled workers.

- Automation cuts demand for low skilled workers far more than it cuts demand for high skilled workers.

- Rising costs of natural resources cut buying power.

Abelard Lindsey,

It isn't that Amazon can't afford it. It is that Amazon doesn't believe it has to afford it. It can get the workers anyhow.

robin hood said at September 25, 2011 9:14 PM:

If Amazon were aware of the conditions and were *allowed* to discriminate against pregnant women, they likely would have.

fumanchero said at September 25, 2011 9:20 PM:

I have to think that you're right and that there are surely simple solutions that Amazon has been too blockheaded to implement.

Black Death said at September 26, 2011 5:49 AM:

In Chapter 25 of "Das Kapital," Karl Marx wrote:

"capitalistic accumulation itself... constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of workers, i.e., a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the valorisation of capital, and therefore a surplus-population... It is the absolute interest of every capitalist to press a given quantity of labour out of a smaller, rather than a greater number of labourers, if the cost is about the same... The more extended the scale of production, the stronger this motive. Its force increases with the accumulation of capital."

....

I don't know if this is exactly what Marx had in mind, but the fact that workers would line up for these rotten jobs that paid $11-12 per hour suggests we have a huge surplus of low-wage laborers in this country. Of course, open borders doesn't exactly help.

gig said at September 26, 2011 6:23 AM:

Also, ethnic diversity decreases (or removes) any bonds between management and workforce. Here in Brazil we had many cases of Korean immigrants keeping their Bolivian workers in slave-like situations. Anyway, you can't think of two cultures more unrelated to each other.

Not only that, but once diversity comes into being, the workforce will be much less productive than the management would expect from their co-ethnics. The Korean boss in Brazil would expect Korean productivity from Bolivians, and once that didn't happen his despise for his workforce would only increase.

I once read something about the English amazed to know that no one despised low-caste Indians as much as High-caste Indian themselves. The English, used to a homogeneous country, couldn't believe that

Lono said at September 26, 2011 8:35 AM:

You all are bringing it on yourselves.

I warned you that those in the top 1% of wealth having been planning/pushing for a NAU economic block (with related open borders) since the 90's - and that I personally had been privy to these discussions since I have a friend whose father (a Texas Billionaire) was intimately involved in them.

Your only hope now is to elect a strong nationalist and constitutionalist - and you have one easily available to you right this instant in Ron Paul - but many still simply won't do the right thing and campaign and elect this honest and useful man.

Randall's advice to "up your game" is wise - but since wealth building is often path dependent - that will not always be enough to compete with the virtually limitless slave labor from other countries.

2012 may be your last chance to do the right thing in a civil, non-violent, way - tell your neighbors, tell your friends, get the word out by any means necessary, make this next presidential election count!

If you are suckered into electing one of the elitists plastic madison avenue puppet candidates again - well - you have only yourselves to blame.

Only you can prevent the coming fire.

WJ said at September 27, 2011 11:39 AM:

If you think working conditions are now better in China you are free to go to China and work there. There is a reason industry is moving to China, and the ability to ignore the health of workers is part of it.

I have never heard of Amazon warehouses being particularly brutal, so part of me wonders whether the Pennsylvania warehouse is/was run by an errant manager trying to impress his superiors by slashing costs. There are plenty of bosses willing to ignore the health of their workers in order to increase their bonuses or chances at promotion; who view every worker complaint as a mark of laziness.

And yes, high immigration contributes to the attitude that management can treat workers like shit. Duh. It'd be nice if one day we can get the Democratic Party back from blacks, Hispanics, Jews and other groups who are all more interested in hating whites than in helping the working class. Has there ever in the history of democracy been a group as large as the white American middle/working class that lacked a major party even pretending to look out for its interests? Doubtful.

Abelard Lindsey said at September 28, 2011 6:39 PM:

It isn't that Amazon can't afford it. It is that Amazon doesn't believe it has to afford it. It can get the workers anyhow.

The asshole management theory.

Ruben James said at October 1, 2011 4:12 PM:

"Immigration increases the supply of low skilled workers"

Randall continues to believe that immigrants are "low skilled workers" while in reality they continue to provide an infinity of goods and services for all. The only low-skilled idiots are the politicians of any country and many wall-street dinosaurs.

Sorry Randall, but it takes some skill to plow fields, pick berries or oranges, wait on 8 or 10 tables at once, load a truck, cook for 10 waiters, drive a truck on an icy road, shovel snow, wash dishes expeditely, lay bricks, clean a sick patient in a hospital or at home, mop them floors, weld a gas pipe, fix an engine etc.

Politicians on the other hand have no skills (that's why they are politicians) They cannon fix a toilet, write a book, install a door knob, drive a screw, drill a well, extract coal, teach a class, split an atom, cook a decent meal, win a gold medal at the olympics, feed old man or change a flat tire.

The only skilled work they do is swing a golf club. Now that's real skill for you, huh!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbSRCjG-VLk


Randall Parker said at October 2, 2011 9:40 PM:

Ruben,

I've worked as a blueberry picker. It was not complex work. I've washed dishes and worked as a food prep cook. Again, not complex. Did not require a lot of skill. I've mopped floors in a factory after it shut down at the end of each day. I've unloaded UPS trucks too. All did not require much skill. I've painted too. We do not need to import people do this work. It pays poorly because its economic value is low.

I have fixed a toilet and replaced a door knob too. Easy tasks. I doubt this makes me more able than most politicians.

Quite a few politicians have written books. My guess is they are much more able to do the things you've listed than you give them credit for.

Randall Parker said at October 2, 2011 9:41 PM:

Lono,

It is already too late. The 2012 election outcome will only affect the rate of decline.

John said at October 4, 2011 1:38 AM:

"It is already too late. The 2012 election outcome will only affect the rate of decline."

So you agree then that only extraordinary measures such as revolution or coups can change anything at this point?

WJ said at October 5, 2011 1:19 PM:

"It is already too late. The 2012 election outcome will only affect the rate of decline."

This assumes that white birthrates can't and won't recover and even surpass the birthrate of NAMs. It assumes we won't recover our wits vis-a-vis immigration policy, and slough the chains of racial guilt. It assumes welfare won't be reformed, reduced, eliminated.

Cultures can change rather rapidly. The 60s brought a pretty definitive change. That's not to say that I'm betting on it, but it's possible, and I would focus on getting that white birthrate back up. Fight the cultural stupidity. Do the things that enable white young adults (college grads especially) to get married sooner and have more kids. That's the biggest question of all: how do you get white birthrates up? Why are so few people asking that question? What works? Living near extended families who can help with child care? Financial help from parents? Less college debt?

Today's newborns are 50% white and 50% minority. If anything caused whites to have a slightly higher rate and minorities to have a slightly lower one, that could easily become 60/40 or even 65/35. Things are bad, but they aren't irreversibly bad.

Engineer-Poet said at October 6, 2011 7:45 AM:

The NAM birthrate could be slashed overnight with a law defining the children of illegal immigrants as non-citizens, and ICE agents at hospitals checking the immigration status of women coming in to give birth.  If having a baby in the USA was a sure-fire way to be deported right after delivery, the number of Central and South Americans coming here would plummet.  Many might up and leave right away:  attrition through enforcement.


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