What it’s like working at Amazon during a Southern California heat wave

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As California prepared for a record-setting heat wave this month, so did workers at an Amazon air freight hub in San Bernardino.

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He distributed thermometers among a dozen colleagues to secretly document workplace temperatures, then compiled the results into a first-of-its-kind report about the Amazon’s conditions during extreme temperatures.

According to a document distributed last week by the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, his experience at the facility known as KSBD was defined by reduced temperatures, employee activism and in some cases concessions from the e-commerce giant. Its release is another sign of a growing labor movement in Amazon, where unionization efforts and protests are becoming common – including a walkout at the same facility last month.

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The report said workers “didn’t wait for Amazon to decide to take their health seriously,” and “documented extremely high temperatures and serious anomalies with Amazon’s own temperature monitors.”

Amazon spokeswoman Mary Kate McCarthy Paradis called the report’s findings “misleading, or simply incorrect.” In an email, she said the KSBD building has a team of trained security professionals who monitor the temperature and take additional measures when necessary, including ensuring employees take extra breaks. In total, there are more than 8,000 security professionals on hand to support Amazon’s employees, Paradis said.

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“The report ignores the robust protocols we have in place, which meet or exceed industry standards and OSHA guidance,” Paradis said.

From August 31 to September 6, workers took temperature readings inside warehouses, inside aircraft cargo holds and on the tarmac, where many workers load and unload cargo from aircraft.

Reportedly, indoor temperatures that week ranged from 75 to 89 degrees, and climbed to 96 inside cargo planes and tractor trailers.

Reportedly, on September 4, a worker recorded a temperature of 121 degrees on the tarmac. During the heat wave the region reached record highs of 110 degrees, but could easily warm 10 degrees warmer in the expansion of dark surfaces and sidewalk temperatures, said Alex Tardy, a National Weather Service meteorologist in San Diego.

When instructed to take a break inside a cooling station – a van parked nearby – the employee checked his digital thermometer and took a picture. It was 90 degrees.

When temperatures in outdoor work areas exceed 80 degrees, the state Department of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, requires that employers provide shade, training, and access to water, and when workers need them. So guarantee the right to preventative cool-down rest. , In high heat conditions, which are defined as temperatures of 95 degrees or higher, employers should remind workers of safe practices, encourage breaks and drinking water, and monitor them for signs or symptoms of heat illness. inspection is required.

There is no uniform indoor heating standard yet. California lawmakers approved legislation in 2016 requiring Cal/OSHA to develop an indoor standard by 2019. Cal/OSHA submitted the proposed rule to the state finance department in 2021; No standard has been applied. However, as per CAL/OSHA regulations, employers are obliged to maintain a safe workplace and need to develop an appropriate plan to do so.

The report said two groups of about 50 workers who contacted the facility’s general manager at the start of the heat wave — on August 31 and September 2 — asked the company to comply with existing state law on workplace safety and outdoor heat illness prevention rules. To remind for.

The report said that Amazon took immediate steps to address some of the concerns raised in the meetings, including providing cold water, ice chests and electrolyte packets. As per the report, the company encouraged more cool-down breaks and added more fans in some indoor areas.

Paradis said competing cargo facilities are far less common than KSBD and other Amazon Air hubs, which are “fully climate-controlled and have both air conditioning and high-velocity fans to increase air flow.”

“We take the health and safety of our employees very seriously, and are always working hard to support them,” she said.

Amazon did not respond to a request from The Times for data on the temperatures the company had recorded during the heat wave in KSBD; Nor would the company comment on employees’ temperature readings. Amazon Spokesperson Paul Flanningen told CNBC in mid-August The highest recorded temperature at the facility was 77 degrees.

At times workers felt that the indoor temperature displayed by Amazon on a monitor by the facility’s entrance did not reflect the warm conditions they experienced, the report said. The temperature Amazon displays on its penetration monitors typically remains in the mid 70s, and peaks in the low 80s, according to photos taken on the screen the week of the heat wave. According to the report, the temperature in this area was recorded at 89 degrees.

Rex Evans, who deals with aircraft loading and unloading, said he was wary of Amazon’s reporting. He said he saw a security department employee take temperature readings in the shade under the plane, which he believed would have worsened the outcome.

“I don’t trust them,” Evans said. “It wouldn’t be a true read.”

Sarah Fey, who works in an area of ​​KSBD called “Outbound Dock,” said she thinks that by confronting managers at the start of a heat wave, workers can avoid heat-related hospitalizations. stopped. “We saved lives,” she said.

One worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions, said that for the first two days of the heat wave, supervisors made it a point to encourage breaks. Soon after, the worker said, the pace picked up and the program went back to normal. The worker said there is usually no time during the nearly four-hour process of loading an aircraft to take breaks lasting more than a minute or two. There is no time to even use the toilet.

Tim Shadix, legal director of the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, which helped compile the report, said documented temperatures, including indoor temperatures in the mid-80s, for people doing strenuous 10-hour shifts were “really dangerous.” Maybe”.

Installing effective cooling mechanisms indoors to keep temperatures below 80 is critical to workplace safety, said Debbie Berkowitz, a former chief of staff and senior policy adviser for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration during the Obama administration.

Berkowitz said a company like Amazon, which is known for its high employee turnover rates in its warehouses, needs to make sure it is making workers aware of safe practices during the summer. This is because the risk increases for newly hired workers who are not yet adaptable. These measures are simple to implement, she said: “It’s water and rest. it’s not rocket science.”

OSHA’s website points to studies It found that nearly half of heat-related deaths occur on the first day at work, and more than 70% of heat-related deaths occur during the employee’s first week.

The incentive for self-documenting temperatures came as part of Amazon Group’s push for higher pay.

The group, which calls itself Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, first filed complaints of suffocation both indoors and outdoors in early summer.

Amazon installed a TV monitor at the entrance in mid-July to record indoor temperatures recorded in various wings of the facility and created an additional rest area to combat the heat, workers said.

In August, several KSBD employees quit, calling on Amazon to raise the base pay rate from about $17 an hour to $22 an hour. Organizers have said that around 160 activists took part. Amazon has disputed that number, saying that 74 of the nearly 1,500 employees at the facility moved out.

More than 900 employees have signed a petition demanding wage hike. According to the Warehouse Worker Resource Center.

KSBD, located at the former Norton Air Force Base, opened in March 2021 and serves as Amazon’s largest West Coast air freight facility. Organizers of Inland Empire Amazon Workers United say Amazon operates about 14 flights in and out of the 24-hour facility.


Source: www.latimes.com

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