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 SandersWarren raised more money from Big Tech employees than other 2020 Democrats: Report Krystal Ball reacts to Ocasio-Cortez endorsing Sanders: 'Class power over girl power' Saagar Enjeti praises Yang for bringing threat of automation to forefront at Ohio debate MORE (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarKrystal Ball reacts to Ocasio-Cortez endorsing Sanders: 'Class power over girl power' The Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House Krystal Ball on Sanders debate performance: 'He absolutely hit it out of the park' 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 TlaibOcasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 Krystal Ball on Sanders debate performance: 'He absolutely hit it out of the park' MORE (D-Mich.), Deb HaalandDebra HaalandUS should oppose expansion of space launch center in Brazil Overnight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists Coalition of farmers and ranchers endorses Green New Deal MORE (D-N.M.) Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOcasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings Omar endorses Sanders presidential bid MORE (D-Mass.), Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeDeLauro enters race to succeed Lowey as Appropriations chief The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment Lawmakers mourn death of 'Julia' star Diahann Carroll MORE (D-Calif.), Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems change drug pricing bill to address progressive concerns | Top Republican rejects Dem proposal on surprise medical bills | Vaping group launches Fox News ad blitz Hillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets Lawmakers hit Trump administration for including tech legal shield in trade negotiations MORE (D-Ill.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaCongress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds Is Congress too afraid to fight Big Pharma? Democrats probing whether groups booked Trump hotel rooms to earn president's favor: report MORE (D-Calif.), Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenClimate finance must push net-zero emissions Trump impeachment efforts will haunt the next Democrat in the White House Overnight Energy: Lawmaker, scientists challenge move to eliminate key advisory boards | White House nixes climate language from emissions proposal | Raffle offers deer hunt with Donald Trump Jr. MORE (D-Texas), Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellPelosi focused on narrow impeachment probe on Ukraine: report Pelosi announces launch of formal impeachment inquiry into Trump More Democrats threaten impeachment over Trump's dealings with Ukraine MORE (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' Booker endorses Lipinski challenger Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings MORE (D-N.Y.), Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinThe Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House The USMCA is an opportunity to keep our promises to working Americans Michigan city declines to renew contract with ICE to hold detainees MORE (D-Mich.) and Tulsi GabbardTulsi Gabbard'We lost a giant': 2020 Democrats mourn the death of Elijah Cummings Third-quarter fundraising sets Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg apart Poll: Almost half of voters say debates are best gauge of candidate's standing MORE (D-Hawaii). 

--Updated at 2:47 p.m.