Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses

Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses
© Greg Nash

A dozen Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the Department of Labor Tuesday asking the agency to investigate Amazon for potential workplace abuse as employees at a Minnesota center protested what they called unfair and unsafe conditions. 

The letter, led by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks Sanders, Manchin escalate fight over .5T spending bill Sanders blames media for Americans not knowing details of Biden spending plan MORE (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarDemocrats step up pressure on Biden on student loan forgiveness Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Bleak midterm outlook shadows bitter Democratic battle MORE (D-Minn.), calls on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to look into conditions at all Amazon warehouses.

Amazon, in a blog post, denied the allegations of unsafe conditions and renewed an open invitation for lawmakers to tour facilities. 

The letter cites reports of unsafe conditions, as well as personal accounts the lawmakers said employees have shared with them. 

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"Hundreds of stories shared with our offices paint a picture of desperation and a corporate employer with little regard for the health of its employees," the letter reads.

One worker described the warehouse as a "21st century sweatshop," and other workers said there is no air conditioning in facilities, according to lawmakers.

Some Amazon employees said they feared retaliation for bathroom breaks and would limit the amount of liquids they consumed, and one said they took medication to not have to use the restroom, according to the letter. 

“Hundreds of workers have shared their stories with us about unconscionable working conditions at Amazon,” Sanders said in a release. "People who work for a company owned by the wealthiest person in America should not have to risk their lives, health or well-being on the job. They must be treated with dignity and respect.”

"It is past time for OSHA to launch a comprehensive investigation into the inhumane condition in Amazon warehouses—and hold this corporate malfeasance accountable to the fullest extent of the law," Omar said. 

Amazon defended itself against the allegations outlined in the letter, saying the claims are not an accurate portrayal of its buildings. 

The company said more than 125,000 people, including 441 policymakers and their staff, took public tours this year, including Omar. Amazon said in the months following Omar’s tour of a Minnesota facility, the congresswoman did not raise concerns over conditions. 

The company also said that Sanders has “committed to visiting, but to date has never stepped foot in one of our buildings.”

The company also said it spent more than $55 million on safety improvement projects within the last year and regularly seeks employee feedback about safety. 

The lawmakers' letter comes as Amazon holds its annual "Prime Day" sale, which lasted two days for the first time this year.

Workers at a fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minn., walked out Monday during the sale, saying Amazon did not meet their demands to convert more temporary positions to full-time jobs and to ease productivity quotas, multiple outlets reported. 

Amazon disputes the employees' allegations about conditions, and claims 90 percent of associates at the Shakopee center are full-time employees and more than 30 have been offered full-time positions recently. 

"The fact is that Amazon provides a safe, quality work environment in which associates are the heart and soul of the customer experience, and today’s event shows that our associates know that to be true," an Amazon spokesperson said in a previous statement to The Hill. "We encourage anyone to come take a tour anytime.”

The letter was also signed by Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibIlhan Omar to Biden: 'Deliver on your promise to cancel student debt' Who's the boss? Pelosi's legacy sealed after kowtowing to 'the Squad' Democratic civil war hits new heights MORE (D-Mich.), Deb HaalandDeb HaalandOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Biden administration breaks down climate finance roadmap Protesters arrested after sit-in at Interior Department Obama to attend Glasgow climate summit MORE (D-N.M.) Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by The National Council for Mental Wellbeing — FDA panel advises Moderna booster shot for high-risk people Ilhan Omar to Biden: 'Deliver on your promise to cancel student debt' Biden's Red Queen justice: How he destroyed both the investigation and the reputation of border agents MORE (D-Mass.), Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeOvernight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Dip in COVID-19 cases offer possible sign of hope 'I was one of the lucky ones': Three Democrats recount their abortion stories to panel Three Democrats to share their abortion stories ahead of hearing MORE (D-Calif.), Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyOvernight Health Care — Presented by The National Council for Mental Wellbeing — FDA panel advises Moderna booster shot for high-risk people Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms MORE (D-Ill.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSunday shows preview: Supply chain crisis threaten holiday sales; uncertainty over whether US can sustain nationwide downward trend in COVID-19 cases Congress needs to step up on crypto, or Biden might crush it House Oversight Committee expects big oil executives to testify this month MORE (D-Calif.), Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenIlhan Omar to Biden: 'Deliver on your promise to cancel student debt' Deportations of Haitians spark concerns over environmental refugees The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Gears begin to shift in Congress on stalled Biden agenda MORE (D-Texas), Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellOvernight Health Care — Presented by The National Council for Mental Wellbeing — FDA panel advises Moderna booster shot for high-risk people On The Money — Bipartisan infrastructure bill vote up in the air Biden gets more aggressive with agenda in balance MORE (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez goes indoor skydiving for her birthday Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention More than 200 women, transgender inmates to be transferred from Rikers Island MORE (D-N.Y.), Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinUS faces daunting task in relationship with Haiti House appears poised to pull infrastructure vote amid stubborn stalemate Recommitting US policy toward two-state solution is the best way to further Middle East peace MORE (D-Mich.) and Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardThe perfect Democratic running mate for DeSantis? Progressives breathe sigh of relief after Afghan withdrawal Hillicon Valley: US has made progress on cyber but more needed, report says | Democrat urges changes for 'problematic' crypto language in infrastructure bill | Facebook may be forced to unwind Giphy acquisition MORE (D-Hawaii). 

--Updated at 2:47 p.m.