Amazon workers document hot conditions inside California warehouse

Warehouse employees who say they’ve endured extreme summer heat working at an Amazon air freight facility in San Bernardino have won some safety concessions from the mega-retailer.

But they say the fixes are inconsistent.

report from the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, a nonprofit seeking to improve working conditions in Southern California’s warehouse industry, said employees at Amazon’s West Coast Air Freight Fulfillment Center raised concerns with management over the summer and crafted petitions calling for change.

But rather than wait around, they decided to take matters into their own hands.

Temperature checks

A dozen workers at the 658,500-square-foot center (also known as KSBD), took thermometers to work for seven days over the summer to document temperatures inside and outside the facilities that they claim were well above Amazon’s temperature readings.

The mercury in San Bernardino topped 100 degrees for 18 days in August, the report said, and several KSBD workers documented heat-related illness over the summer.

They recorded a temperature of 96 degrees inside cargo planes and tractor-trailers, and well above 110 on the tarmac. Inside the warehouse, they recorded a high of nearly 90 degrees.

In August, an Amazon spokesperson said the highest recorded temperature inside KSBD was 77 degrees.

“People who I work with closely, who I call friends, have suffered from heat illness this summer,” warehouse employee Rex Evans said. “When we saw the forecast that it would be even hotter, we had to take action. We had to protect ourselves.”

At least 500 of the roughly 1,400 employees at the facility work outside on the tarmac of San Bernardino International Airport where KSBD is located. And others laboring inside cramped road trailers and large air-freight containers often work with little or no ventilation, employees said.

Amazon responds

In a statement released late Friday, Amazon said many of the allegations in the report are “misleading, or simply inaccurate.”

“The report ignores the robust protocols we have in place, which meet or exceed industry standards and OSHA guidance,” the company said. “Unlike most air hub sites within the broader cargo industry, Amazon air hubs—including KSBD—are fully climate controlled and have both air conditioning and high velocity fans to increase air flow.”

Amazon said KSBD is staffed with a team of safety professionals who actively monitor the temperature and take extra measures when necessary. That includes ensuring employees take additional breaks when needed, the company said.

The company made some changes as a result of the workers’ complaints. They include: 

—Increased, preventative cool-down breaks that the workers say are inconsistent

—Increased access to water, ice and electrolyte packets

—Increased fans inside the facility, although permanent fans have yet to be installed

—Increased rotation for outdoor employees

The employees are also seeking training for KSBD workers and managers in compliance with Cal/OSHA standards regarding heat-illness prevention.

Tim Shaddix, the Warehouse Worker Resource Center’s legal director, said California employees have a right to a safe work environment  — including protections from heat. He added that “collective action is critical to actually hold a company, especially one as large as Amazon, accountable to the people essential to their business.”

Housed on the former Norton Airforce Base, KSBD opened in March 2021. It operates about 14 daily flights that move products in and out of the 24-hour facility. Workers process prepackaged merchandise that’s trucked or flown in from other Amazon facilities and distributed to markets across the country.

The jobs involve a lot of physical labor with employees typically working 10-hour shifts. The report said Amazon uses algorithms to set production rates that workers, individually or collectively, must meet. That has a significant impact on the way heat impacts the body, the study said, especially when workers can’t take enough breaks.

Over the course of the summer, KSBD staff came together to demand a variety of improved conditions in their workplace regarding wages, leave policy and other issues. They are demanding a $5-per-hour pay increase, which would boost the starting wage from $17 an hour to $22.

While workers at KSBD are speaking out and advocating for themselves, it’s unknown what is happening at Amazon’s other facilities in the Inland Empire, the report said.

Amazon employs roughly 40,000 employees and operates about 36 warehouses, delivery stations and other supply chain operations in the two-county region.

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