The maltreatment of workers at factories in China has recently put much focus on electronic-gadget maker Apple Inc. But it's another technology icon -- Amazon.com Inc., the massive Internet retailer that sells everything from books to shoes to cleaning products -- that is drawing scrutiny for the way it treats American workers at its warehouse facilities in its pursuit of profits.
Though the Seattle-based company's official safety record is better than most employers, The Seattle Times reports, some Amazon employees are alleging abysmal working conditions or claiming that they've been fired for failing to keep up with the relentless pace required to fill orders at its U.S. warehouses. Known as "fulfillment centers," they employ some 15,000 blue-collar workers.
Amazon operates 69 warehouses worldwide, 17 of which opened in the past year as the company moves quickly to ensure its dominance in the competitive online retail trade.
A recent federal lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania, as well as interviews with former employees, suggests the company sought to disguise work-related injuries as pre-existing conditions or as so minor as to not require reporting to the federal government, according to the Times.
In the lawsuit, settled in July, warehouse employee Paul Grady said that he was instructed by a safety worker at an Amazon warehouse in Allentown, Pa., to tell emergency personnel that a hip injury he incurred wasn't job-related, even though Grady says it was.
The story of Grady's injury was first reported by the Allentown Morning Call, which also found indoor temperatures at the warehouse were so high that Amazon had ambulances standing by to take workers to a local hospital.
Further, the Times reports, three former workers at Amazon's warehouse in Campbellsville, Ky., said they were pressured to manage injuries so as to not have them reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
For its part, Amazon says its warehouses are safe places to work, telling the Times that its incidence of injury are lower than the warehousing industry as a whole, or at auto plants and department stores.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, warehouse workers experience total recordable injuries at a rate (5.9 per 100 full-time workers) higher than the average in all private industries (3.5 per 100).
The agency's latest report, issued in October and reflecting 2010 data, shows that few other industries have injury rates as high. But they include air transportation (8.1 per 100), courier and messenger services (7.2), and beverage and tobacco products manufacturing (6.4), among others.
Dr. Jerome Dixon, a physician who treated Amazon employees who worked at the Campbellsville facility, said company officials never told him how to treat injured workers, but he said that he was questioned about treatments that would require the injuries to be reported to OSHA.
"If you give a shot of an anti-inflammatory, it makes the patient get better faster," Dixon said. "Sometimes I did give that shot, and maybe they didn't like that. I would say, 'Sorry, I know it's a recordable and makes you do paperwork.' "
Reports of alleged mistreatment of Amazon workers follow those at a massive warehouse complex in Southern California, where workers claim they were shorted wages and forced to work in 90-degree heat and under conditions that could lead to injury because of the stress and speed required to do the job.
The warehouses, situated in Riverside County, southeast of Los Angeles, supply goods to Walmart stores and other big-box retailers (but not Amazon) throughout the nation. Walmart disputes the allegations, which were made in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles last October.
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