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On summer's hottest days, Amazon workers brought their own thermometers

Suhauna Hussain, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

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

They distributed among a dozen colleagues handheld thermometers to covertly document workplace temperatures, then compiled the results in a first-of-its kind report about conditions at Amazon during extreme temperatures.

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

Workers "did not wait for Amazon to decide to take their health seriously," the report said, and "documented extremely high temperatures and grave inconsistencies with Amazon's own temperature monitors."

Amazon spokeswoman Mary Kate McCarthy Paradis called the report's findings "misleading, or simply inaccurate." In an email, she said the KSBD building is staffed with a team of trained safety professionals who monitor the temperature and take extra measures when necessary, including ensuring employees take additional breaks. Paradis said Amazon overall has more than 8,000 safety professionals across its work sites to support employees.

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

 

From Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, workers took temperature readings inside the warehouse, within aircraft cargo holds and on the tarmac, where scores of workers load and unload freight from aircraft.

Indoor temperatures ranged from 75 to 89 degrees that week, according to the report, and climbed as high as 96 inside cargo planes and tractor trailers.

On Sept. 4, one worker recorded a 121 degree temperature on the tarmac, according to the report. Recorded highs in the area reached 110 degrees during the heat wave, but near dark surfaces and expanses of pavement temperatures could easily read 10 degrees hotter, 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 — that worker checked their digital thermometer and snapped a photo. It was 90 degrees.

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