Sep. 21, 2011 at 11:35 AM ET
The weak job market has left many Americans so desperate for any job that they will put up with a lot: Low pay, a lack of benefits, even unpleasant working conditions.
A recent story from The Morning Call, a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania, details just how difficult some of those jobs can be.
The story, based on interviews with 20 current and former workers, recounts the experiences of temporary and permanent workers whose job it was to move inventory through an Amazon.com warehouse in Pennsylvania for $11 or $12 an hour.
The workers told the paper they were pushed to work harder and harder, and reprimanded or threatened with being fired if they didn’t live up to the expectations.
The worst part for many workers was that they were being asked to keep up the brisk pace during summer days when, they say, the heat index sometimes exceeded 110 degrees.
“During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn't quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time,” The Morning Call’s Spencer Soper wrote.
The conditions prompted a complaint from a nearby emergency room doctor who had treated workers for heat-related injuries, and an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, The Morning Call reported.
After the OSHA inspection, Amazon installed additional fans and made other changes, according to the paper, but employees said it wasn’t enough to keep some areas cool.
Elmer Goris, one of the employees interviewed, told The Morning Call it was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
“I never felt like passing out in a warehouse and I never felt treated like a piece of crap in any other warehouse but this one," Goris said. "They can do that because there aren't any jobs in the area."
Both Amazon and the temporary staffing firm that employed some of the workers told The Mornng Call they take worker safety seriously but declined to address specific concerns the employees interviewed had raised.
In an e-mailed statement, an Amazon.com spokeswoman told msnbc.com the company does have air conditioning in some fulfillment centers, such as in Phoenix, and is in the process of adding air conditioning at other facilities.
"At Amazon, the safety and well-being of our employees is our number one priority. We have several procedures in place to ensure the safety of our associates during the summer heat, including increased breaks, shortened shifts, constant reminders and help about hydration, and extra ice machines," the company said in the statement.
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