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 SandersBloomberg: 'I'm going to stay right to the bitter end' of Democratic primary race The Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarBill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Progressive group leader describes why Warren would be better than Sanders Omar offers sneak peek at her forthcoming memoir 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 TlaibBill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Omar offers sneak peek at her forthcoming memoir Sanders wins endorsement of top Muslim group MORE (D-Mich.), Deb HaalandDebra HaalandNative American leader denounces destruction of sacred sites for border wall construction Overnight Energy: DOJ dropping antitrust probe into automakers | Energy chief unveils coal research initiative | House Dems seek to conserve 30 percent of US lands, oceans House Democrats seek to conserve 30 percent of US lands, oceans by 2030 MORE (D-N.M.) Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding Bill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Progressive Democrat confronts Rep. Cuellar at parade, calls for him to debate her: report MORE (D-Mass.), Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeBill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Democrats spar with DeVos at hearing, say Trump budget would 'privatize education' California lawmakers mark Day of Remembrance for Japanese internment MORE (D-Calif.), Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskySanders rips Pence: His last response to an epidemic was to 'pray' it away Lawmakers grill Ticketmaster, StubHub execs over online ticketing Overnight Health Care: Americans with coronavirus reportedly flown home over CDC advice | Dem fight over 'Medicare for All' heats up at debate | House to vote next week on flavored vaping ban MORE (D-Ill.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaKhanna introduces bill to add a third gender option on US passports Omar endorses progressive Georgia Democrat running for House seat Democrats call for Twitter, Facebook to take down Pelosi video posted by Trump MORE (D-Calif.), Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenChinatown restaurants, shops say business is down due to coronavirus fears Democrats highlight lack of diversity at major banks in new report House passes supplemental disaster relief for Puerto Rico MORE (D-Texas), Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellLawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Democrats call on Pompeo to restore funding to Gaza MORE (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez cuts census ad with Lin-Manuel Miranda Bill banning menthol in cigarettes divides Democrats, with some seeing racial bias Industry group warns fracking ban could cost 7.5M jobs in US MORE (D-N.Y.), Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinA disaster for diplomacy and the Zionist dream More than 100 House Dems reject Trump peace plan in open letter Overnight Energy: Trump officials finalize plans to shrink Bears Ears, Grand Staircase | Trump backs off support for Yucca Mountain nuke waste site | BLM leadership expanded Colorado oil drilling over staff objections MORE (D-Mich.) and Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardSteyer releases African American policy ahead of South Carolina primary Biden leads by 18 points in South Carolina: poll Buttigieg notes diversity on debate stage: We're '7 white people talking about racial justice' MORE (D-Hawaii). 

--Updated at 2:47 p.m.