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 SandersVolatile presidential polls spark new round of anxieties GOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' British Bookmaker: Warren has replaced Biden as Democratic primary favorite MORE (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarMaher rails against anti-Israel boycott movement: 'A bulls--- purity test' for Democrats Pelosi hits Trump, Netanyahu for 'weakness' amid tensions over Omar and Tlaib Ocasio-Cortez brushes off Trump tweet claiming she is 'fuming' over Tlaib, Omar attention 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 TlaibMaher rails against anti-Israel boycott movement: 'A bulls--- purity test' for Democrats Pelosi hits Trump, Netanyahu for 'weakness' amid tensions over Omar and Tlaib Ocasio-Cortez brushes off Trump tweet claiming she is 'fuming' over Tlaib, Omar attention MORE (D-Mich.), Deb HaalandDebra HaalandWarren unveils Native American policy plan Booker eyes farm conservation, reforestation and wetlands restoration in climate plan Trump's plans for development at Bears Ears monument sparks condemnation MORE (D-N.M.) Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOcasio-Cortez brushes off Trump tweet claiming she is 'fuming' over Tlaib, Omar attention Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Sen. Susan Collins: Israel should allow Omar, Tlaib to visit MORE (D-Mass.), Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeOvernight Health Care: Planned Parenthood to leave federal family planning program absent court action | Democrats demand Trump withdraw rule on transgender health | Cummings, Sanders investigate three drug companies for 'obstructing' probe Democrats demand Trump officials withdraw rule on transgender health House Democratic leadership member backs impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Calif.), Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyLawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps On The Money: House to vote on budget deal Thursday | US, China resuming trade talks next week | Mnuchin backs DOJ tech antitrust probe MORE (D-Ill.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaKing incites furor with abortion, rape and incest remarks San Jose mayor proposes mandatory liability insurance for gun owners Democrats give cold shoulder to Warren wealth tax MORE (D-Calif.), Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenWe need a climate plan for agriculture No industry will be impacted by climate change worse than agriculture Five factors that will determine gun control debate MORE (D-Texas), Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellGun reform groups to pressure GOP senators with rallies in all 50 states Automakers rebuff Trump, strike fuel efficiency deal with California Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment MORE (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez brushes off Trump tweet claiming she is 'fuming' over Tlaib, Omar attention Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE (D-N.Y.), Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinMichigan House Democrats plan vigil for Iraqi man who died after deportation House Democrats urge Trump to end deportations of Iraqis after diabetic man's death Immigrant rights advocates say diabetic man died after being deported to Iraq MORE (D-Mich.) and Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment The US can't seem to live without Afghanistan 2020 Democrats release joint statement ahead of Trump's New Hampshire rally MORE (D-Hawaii). 

--Updated at 2:47 p.m.