On the Clock is Motherboard’s reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.
“Internal temperature is too hot. We have no ventilation, dusty, dirty fans that spread debris into our lungs and eyes, are working at a non-stop pace and [we] are fainting out from heat exhaustion, getting nose bleeds from high blood pressure and feeling dizzy and nauseous,” reads a federal complaint filed a group of employees at New York City’s largest Amazon warehouse, known as JFK8, earlier this week.
As heat waves roil the country, Amazon warehouse workers around the United States are working up to 12-hour shifts in warehouses with cooling systems which workers say are insufficient. Last week, during the ‘heat dome’ in the Pacific Northwest, Amazon warehouse workers received ice scarfs—frozen neck coolers—and some departments ran “power hour” where workers were expected to do their jobs as quickly as possible for an hour, according to the Seattle Times.
New York City’s JFK8 has a centralized cooling system, but workers have repeatedly complained about sweltering heat, the lack of fans at their workstations, and empty water fountains in recent weeks, according to screenshots of an internal JFK8 message board, known as Voice of Amazon, obtained by Motherboard.
“Can we work together to get the warehouse to an appropriate temperature for everyone. 79 degrees on all floors is excessive, especially with it being 75 outdoors. I cannot work with excessive heat all day. More bigger fans are much appreciated,” one worker commented.
“It is still way too hot even with station fans. how is the system working properly if internal temperatures are 78-80 degrees. Please look into this until it’s fixed properly and comfortable,” another employee wrote.
A large screen in JFK8 shows workers what the temperature is at different parts of the facility. Photographs of that screen Motherboard obtained show temperature readings from JFK8 from June 22 and July 1 that registered temperatures above 80 degrees in parts of the warehouse.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, risk of heat related-illness starts at wet-bulb temperatures (a combination of temperature and humidity) above 70 degrees. Wet-bulb temperatures are essentially a measure of the temperature that sweat can cool the skin down to in a given environment, meaning that even if wet-bulb temperatures aren’t considered to be actively dangerous, a worker would need to sweat to get down to that temperature. Photos obtained by Motherboard of JFK8’s temperature in recent days showed wet-bulb temperatures that according to OSHA’s guidelines did not present a high-risk of heat related illness to workers. Workers there nonetheless say that the working conditions are uncomfortable, and the heat has been a recurring topic of conversation at the warehouse.
“We installed climate control in our fulfillment centers, including JFK8, many years ago,” Kelly Nantel, a spokesperson for Amazon told Motherboard. “These systems provide A/C to all areas of the building and constantly measure the temperature, and we also have safety teams who monitor temperatures on each floor individually. Our teams also have easy access to water and can take time off if they choose to, though we’re finding that many people prefer to be in our buildings because of the A/C.”
Messages from JFK8’s general manager on the Voice of Amazon internal portal said that Amazon had deployed 16 industrial fans to the Staten Island warehouse in late June, purchased large portable cooling units, and was considering swapping out filters of HVAC units to improve airflow.
“Our safety team has water and cold compresses we hand out during this heat wave and is available upon request,” a general manager wrote to workers in June in a message obtained by Motherboard.
Motherboard talked to three Amazon warehouse workers who said that they had never been offered cold compresses. They said that many of their work stations lacked fans—or fans were broken or not plugged in, and they had not seen any portable cooling units aside from those in the break room.
“When I work, I’m dripping in sweat, sweating through my clothes,” one JFK8 packer told Motherboard. “I bring multiple drinks to work with me, and I bring a travel size deodorant that I put on my armpits, my stomach and under my boobs.”
Do you have a tip to share with us about Amazon? Please get in touch with Lauren, the reporter, via email [email protected] or Signal 201-897-2109.
The group of workers who filed the federal complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are affiliated with an ongoing worker-led union drive at the Staten Island facility, under the banner Amazon Labor Union. In recent months, Amazon has fought back against the unionization effort at JFK8, posting anti-union messaging in bathroom stalls and monitors around the warehouse.