As I was browsing a Teamsters group on Facebook this morning, I came across a headline that seemed rather relevant to my line of work. It states that Amazon workers are “working without air conditioning, experiencing exhaustion and dehydration.”
The scene in the photo is a familiar one to my co-workers and me. Our (not Amazon) hub takes in trailers that look very much like this one, filled to the top with packages to unload. The conveyor belt in the middle can extend all the way to the back of the trailer, enabling us to get packages out without repeatedly walking the length of the trailer. Like the conditions mentioned in the article, only certain areas of the hub are air conditioned. The “work” areas are not. Moreover, my primary line of work is terminal tractors, and most of ours also are not equipped with air conditioning. These days, I’m consuming at least 160 oz. of water, with electrolytes, from the time I enter to the time I leave.
Naturally, this being a Teamsters group on Facebook, some commented that Amazon workers should unionize in order to prevent this kind of thing. I suspect many of them didn’t actually read the article. And obviously, if our being unionized doesn’t earn us air conditioned hubs, terminal tractors, or delivery vehicles, it’s downright illogical to think Amazon workers will fare any differently just because they unionize.
Now that you’ve had a short education in such things, let’s read some of this story.
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — A group of East African employees is asking retail giant Amazon to improve working conditions at an eastern Minnesota warehouse.
Employees at the Eagan facility made the request at a Monday news conference called by the Awood Center, which defends the rights of East African workers, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
The employees allege they have experienced exhaustion, dehydration and injuries while working without air conditioning. Workers said the conditions are particularly difficult for Muslim workers who are celebrating Ramadan and observing a strict fast.
“Recently, I couldn’t work because I needed water,” Nimo Hirad, an order picker at the facility, said through an interpreter. “I got so thirsty, I couldn’t even swallow my saliva. I ended up breaking my fast and drinking water two days in a row.”
How might we approach this? Maybe we need a conversation about the extent of required religious accommodations. Perhaps we should have a conversation about whether doing warehouse work in June without drinking water is a bad idea. The headline writer here appears more interested in making Amazon look bad and not offending any cultural sensitivities.
Amazon later announced that they were reducing quotas for workers celebrating Ramadan, which—if Amazon were unionized—would probably be met with several grievances filed by non-Muslim employees who were presumably forced to make up the gap.
I think I’ll go get a glass of water now.