When Patty Hernandez began to feel uncomfortable during the first trimester of her pregnancy, her doctor ordered her to perform lighter tasks at work or risk losing her baby.
The 23-year-old parcel wrapper at an Amazon fulfillment center in California, US asked her manager if she could move to a less physically exhausting role in the warehouse.
His job was to haul huge yellow bins full of packages, weighing up to 22 kilograms each, off the conveyor belts during his 10-hour shifts.
A letter from her doctor stated that she should avoid lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling more than nine kilograms, and not walking or standing for more than half of her shift.
Ms Hernandez’s request for lighter duties was denied. Her manager, who knew she was pregnant, started berating her for taking too many bathroom breaks, she claims.
While on a shift in October last year, she went to the bathroom and discovered blood in her underwear. Mrs Hernandez had a miscarriage.
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To add insult to injury, she was denied medical leave and, after exhausting her small number of personal leaves, was forced to resign.
In the weeks since Ms. Hernandez lost her baby, data released by the U.S. government’s accountability office revealed that more than 4,000 Amazon fulfillment center workers across America depend on vouchers. food to survive.
The federal program gives grocery coupons to both low-income and no-income Americans and was not designed for people with substantial jobs.
Seventy percent of those Amazon food stamp workers are full-time employees.
Last month, a damning leak from the Internal Revenue Service – the US tax collection agency – revealed that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world with an estimated worth of $ 205 billion US dollars (AU $ 279 billion), paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011.
Within a year, he even claimed a parental tax credit of $ 4,000 for households earning less than $ 100,000 a year.
And overnight, Bezos roared to the edge of space aboard his penis-shaped rocket, during the first passenger flight from his multibillion-dollar company Blue Origin.
âI want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer for paying for all of this,â he said after landing.
They might be the truest words ever, and without a hint of irony.
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“Inhuman” workplaces that bring in billions for Bezos
Ms. Hernandez’s story is far from an isolated incident.
Reports of other pregnant women penalized and even fired for requesting certain workplace accommodations, including more authorized toilet breaks, have surfaced in recent years.
More generally, Amazon workers in the United States have spoken out against the shocking conditions they face in the company’s vast network of distribution centers.
Mega-warehouses filled with thousands of products are staffed with an army of employees rushing around picking, boxing and shipping orders to customers of the online shopping giant.
They feel immense pressure to perform thanks to the ambitious goals set by management, which have been criticized by workplace advocates as near torture.
One of these metrics is called a âtime off taskâ – a calculation of the minutes a fulfillment center employee is not performing their tasks, followed by the handheld scanner assigned to each order picker.
Staff are only allowed 10 minutes of free time per shift.
There are infamous examples today of how this policy can play out, with warehouse workers urinating into bottles, getting dirty, or passing out from exhaustion.
As Ms Hernandez pointed out, the bathroom at her huge distribution center was a six-minute walk away, meaning it was physically impossible to use the restroom without breaking the free time limit.
Another ambitious goal imposed on distribution center employees is inspect and scan 1,800 packages per hour before leaving a facility on a truck. That’s the equivalent of 30 per minute.
A Washington post investigation background warehouse workers sustain workplace injuries at a higher rate than most other businesses in the United States.
Democrat MK Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the biggest critics of Bezos and Amazon, saying the company should pay its workers more and offer better terms.
Today, in response to Bezos’ comments after the space flight, Ms Ocasio-Cortez was scathing.
“Yes, Amazon workers have paid for it – with lower wages, union breakdowns, a frenetic and inhumane workplace and delivery drivers without health insurance during a pandemic,” he said. she said in a tweet
“And Amazon customers are paying for it, with Amazon abusing their market power to hurt small businesses.”
Late last year, when warehouse workers struggled to pay their bills despite working long hours, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez described a job at Amazon as “a scam.”
Distribution center staff continued to work during the Covid-19 pandemic as the virus ravaged America, viewed as essential workers. Many did not or did not have sufficient health insurance.
The coronavirus restrictions also meant that many public toilets were closed and restaurants or cafes were sheltered, with some delivery drivers urinating into bottles inside their trucks.
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An increasingly poorly received scrutiny
The company has been somewhat combative with its critic lately, attacking any negative publicity about its working conditions.
When an American politician attacked the treatment of warehouse workers, he hit back with a sarcastic tweet that read, âYou don’t really believe in peeing in bottles, do you? If it was true, no one would work for us.
Former employees, union representatives and investigative journalists quickly debunked the denial, sharing stories spread over many years and even photographs of bottles full of urine.
Then came an embarrassing pullback from Amazon, which admitted that some workers are indeed forced to pee in bottles.
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Efforts to unionize warehouse staff were the subject of fierce management campaigns. Critics describe it as akin to an archaic anti-union struggle.
Better regulations and stricter laws in Australia mean that local Amazon fulfillment staff enjoy better working conditions than their American counterparts.
But still, a 2019 ABC survey reported a ‘culture of fear’ where performances are timed ‘by the second’ and high pressure targets make many feel like they can’t take a break. in the toilet.
âWe are striving to be a great employer in Australia and we believe we are making good progress but still have a long way to go,â the company told ABC at the time.
Amazon in the US has also repeatedly defended its record in the past, pointing out that it is the country’s second-largest employer and a great place to work, but said it is still looking for ways to make it happen. better.
It has been reported that the annual turnover rate of warehouse workers in the United States is 150 percent.
Bezos keeps his wealth close
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Bezos has seen his wealth explode by US $ 70 billion (AU $ 95 billion) thanks to Amazon’s exponential growth.
He has just stepped down as CEO of the company he founded in his Seattle, Washington garage in the mid-1990s.
Bezos will now focus on Blue Origin, his new space company, which has sold US $ 100 million (AU $ 136 million) in flights so far, he revealed today.
âThe demand is very, very high,â he said of the tickets.
An auction for a seat alongside Bezos on its maiden flight cost US $ 28 million (A $ 38 million).
In stark contrast to the huge amount of money spent on his space vanity project – around US $ 1 billion (AU $ 1.3 billion) per year – he donated only a tiny fraction of his historical wealth to charitable works.
It has been reported that Bezos gave around one percent of his fortune to charitable causes.
This is nothing compared to the donations of other billionaires, Donald Trump having donated 3% of his wealth.
That was clearly on people’s minds during today’s space flight, with a trending Twitter thread dedicated to his ex-wife Mackenzie Scott donating $ 5.8 billion (AU $ 7.9 billion) in 2020 alone.