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, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Democrats battle for Hollywood's cash Sanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire MORE (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump Al Green calls for including Trump's 'racism' in impeachment articles 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 TlaibSanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump House moves ahead on long-stalled resolution supporting two states for Israelis and Palestinians MORE (D-Mich.), Deb HaalandDebra HaalandWarren bill would revoke Medals of Honor for Wounded Knee massacre Warren adds Ayanna Pressley as campaign co-chair Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (D-N.M.) Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleySanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire Booker unveils legislation for federal bill to ban discrimination against natural hair House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE (D-Mass.), Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeBooker unveils legislation for federal bill to ban discrimination against natural hair Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings Lawmakers visit African migrants at US-Mexico border MORE (D-Calif.), Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyThe Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment of Trump resumes Warren receives endorsement from Illinois congresswoman ahead of Chicago rally Overnight Health Care: Trump draws ire after retreat on drug price promise | Harris unveils mental health plan | Dem bill targets violence against women around the world MORE (D-Ill.), Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Impeachment fight shifts to House Judiciary Democrats hit gas on impeachment George Soros, Charles Koch foundations help launch pro-peace think tank MORE (D-Calif.), Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Pelosi warns of 'existential' climate threat, vows bold action MORE (D-Texas), Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellHillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Virginia moves to suspend Medicaid work rules | Powerful House panel sets 'Medicare for All' hearing | Hospitals sue over Trump price rule | FDA official grilled on vaping policy House passes anti-robocall bill MORE (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSanders, Omar to hit campaign trail in New Hampshire Ocasio-Cortez: 'Won't you look at that: Amazon is coming to NYC anyway' House approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump MORE (D-N.Y.), Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinDemocrats work to bring labor on board trade deal House Democrats rebuke State Department for 'reversal' on Israeli settlements The Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House MORE (D-Mich.) and Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardBiden: All-white debate not representative of party, but 'you can't dictate' nominee Delaney to DNC: Open second debate stage for candidates who qualified for past events The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage MORE (D-Hawaii). 

--Updated at 2:47 p.m.