My Time at Amazon

After seeing a job posting for Amazon on Indeed, I applied for a job in one of their warehouses.  At the time I had no idea what I was getting myself into as I had never worked for an organization that big.  I learned a lot, both good and bad.  In the end, Amazon will not have me as a customer, let alone an employee.

After filling out several online forms, I was ready for my job at a warehouse in Bellevue, Washington.  I was to work at the first Amazon Fresh, the Amazon food delivery.  For the first two weeks of work they had me in the “chill” department.  It was a section of the warehouse kept at 38 degrees farenheit.  Amazon provided large jackets and gloves to wear while working in this section.  They also provided packaged hand warmers for extra warmth.  I started there in November in Seattle, where the weather outside pretty much matched the temperature inside.  Our schedule was for 10 hours a day.  We worked 4 days on, 3 off.  We spent the entire time walking on cement floors, which make your feet begin to ache after about 5 or 6 hours.  I was living in my van at the time and it never seemed like I could get warm.

Working and sleeping in the cold eventually made me sick.  I asked to be moved to the warmer department and was allowed to work their sometimes, but often I would be called back to chill.  Several of my coworkers found themselves sick as well.  Amazon does have a nice system where one can take a generous amount of time off if needed.  Soon after I began working we had mandatory overtime as the holiday season was upon us.  The job was so physically demanding all I could do on my days off was sleep.  I asked my younger coworkers what they did on their days off and every single one of them said, “sleep.”  My feet constantly hurt, even on my days off.  I began to swim at the gym to loosen my muscles up, which helped a little.

As the holidays drew near, it began to snow outside.  Towards the end of our shift we had to load the trucks with the totes of food which meant working in very cold conditions.  One night I worked in chill, had to load totes while it snowed outside and then sleep in my van which did not have any heat.  The wages that are paid the warehouse workers are just slightly above minimum wage, making housing a hard thing to come by.  When I could I stayed in a modest motel to be warm and safe.

At the warehouse I worked in it was very difficult to get a hold of human resources if you had a problem, as our representative was not there during our shift.  Amazon did however have a medical office for minor injuries or safety hazards.  Having served on the safety committee at my union, I decided to join the safety committee at Amazon.  The employees seem dedicated to making the workplace safe.  There are numerous hazards working in a warehouse.

Things at Amazon are always in constant change as the company is always looking for ways to improve processes.  As the weather began to warm up, temporary workers were hired to load the trucks with the totes and the regular workers no longer had to do so, eliminating having to work in the evening cold.

I made a lot of good friends at Amazon and for the most part everyone got along.  Matt was one of my supervisors and let me pick the jobs I wanted to do for the day.  He had a great sense of humor and made the job fun not only for me but for everyone around him.  His younger brother worked in the warehouse as well and they were very close.  One day my friend Camron said he wanted to walk back with me to my department.  He seemed to insist.  I agreed, but thought it was strange.  As we walked past a bulletin board I saw a notice about Matt.  He had committed suicide and there was a card to sign for the family.  I was crushed.  Having lost a lot of friends already, I dealt with it fine, but was sad.  Amazon did provide counseling for those that wanted to take advantage of that service, which I did.

During my first months at Amazon I noticed that a coworker seemed to always be on my bus.  I never took the bus at the same time each day.  Sometimes I arrived right before shift and sometimes I arrived a couple of hours early so I could eat a meal and relax before our long shift.  One day I decided to test him and I arrived 3 hours early.  He was on my bus.  I decided to complain to security.  They did not seem to take it seriously and said there was nothing they could do about things that happened away from work.  Having had a female friend murdered, I take being stalked seriously.  One morning he showed up where I was having breakfast.  At that point I went to Human Resources, but no one ever did anything.  At the time I did not contact police because the man who was stalking me was homeless and I did not want to be responsible for someone losing their job.  Had I a chance to do it over, I would call the police.  He would also taunt me during the work shift.  His harassment and stalking continued while I worked there.  I felt Amazon did not care about the safety of female employees.

Amazon announced that the warehouse would be moving and the current warehouse would close in June.  They offered a transfer to another warehouse or one could move to the new one.  I wanted to attend school in southern California, so I asked for a transfer.  I requested Los Angeles, but was offered a job in San Bernardino.  I researched the distance to LA and found that the light rail went to downtown.  I agreed to move and was promised $3,000 in relocation money.  I researched the cost of housing in the San Bernardino area and found that it was plenty to make the move.

Upon arriving in San Bernardino I checked into a motel for a few days.  I spent my time researching apartments and made a few appointments for dates that were after my first paycheck.  I could take the bus to a distance about a half a mile away from the warehouse.  It was summer in San Bernardino and some days were 110 degrees.  By the time I reached the warehouse I was ready to pass out.  I worked a few days and on the day my pay check was to go into my account, nothing was there.  I went to Human Resources and they said it would come by check to the warehouse, even though I requested it to go into my account.  My paycheck finally arrived but my relocation money was not included, as promised.  After several phone calls I was told it could take several days. I told them it was not acceptable as I had moved from out of state and was told it would be on my first paycheck.  They finally posted the money to my account, but when I checked I had only received $1600, when I had been promised $3,000.  I was told I was given half that day and would receive the rest the next day.  I was anxious to get a place to live as motels are expensive.  The next day the money did not arrive.  I called to find out what happened and they told me $1600 was all i was getting as the rest was taken out in taxes.  This left me unable to rent an apartment.  I was able to stay in the motel I started out in.  I realized money was going to be tight and the bus was expensive, so I used some of the money to buy a bicycle to make sure I could make it to work every day.

My coworkers began to harass me about not living in an apartment. I was ganged up upon on a daily basis.  The managers did as well.  I spent the first 3 weeks of employment at that warehouse in Human Resources trying to stand up for myself for all of the things that were going wrong.  Even though I had documented proof, I was always told nothing could be done.

My co workers continued to harass me on a daily basis in many shapes and forms.  I was the only Jew in the warehouse that I knew of.  I was also older than most of my coworkers, which had not been the case in Seattle. I felt like I was a walking target.  I complained to managers, but nothing was done.  I began going to HR, but nothing was done.  I began to miss work as I could not take the harassment any longer.  Then I was fired for missing too much work.  I appealed the termination.  At the meeting with the warehouse manager, he provided me a sheet of my attendance for the entire time I worked for the company.  He stated that my attendance had been great until around the  second week of August.  I told him that is when the harassment began to get really bad.  I told him I had made complaints to management and HR.  I lost my appeal.  I had one more recourse.  That was to go to the ethics committee.

The ethics committee is an outside agency that Amazon hire.  I told them my story in detail and it was determined that Amazon had wrongly terminated me.  An HR manager was to help me find a job near Venice, where I eventually moved.  I applied to openings but quickly was denied.  I kept in contact with the HR manager and he kept telling me he would see what he could do.  Losing my job had made me homeless and after a few months I realized Amazon was not going to do anything to help me and I gave up.  So Amazon has left me homeless.

Nothing about working at Amazon, not the pay, not the location, not the perks made working there worth while.  The company is so big that pursuing any legal action is pointless, leaving workers with no recourse.  My advise to those left at the warehouse would be to unionize.  As a union the employees have means to fight against things like that which was done to me in both Seattle and San Bernardino.  Without a union, Amazon will continue to pay low wages and rob their employees of their rights.

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Amazon Has Left Me Stranded for the Holidays (as an employer)

Last fall I began working for Amazon.com in one of their warehouses in Bellevue, Washington.  It was an Amazon Fresh warehouse and the food delivery had really begun to take off, so much so the warehouse needed to move to a larger space.  At the time of the move the company gave us the opportunity to move with them or to transfer to another area.

I chose to transfer to California where I have applied to enter a college program.  In June of last year I was transferred to San Bernardino.  The move to San Bernardino got off to a bad start right from the beginning.  I was promised by Amazon to receive $3,000 in relocation money, enough money to move into an apartment.  I was to receive the money with my first pay upon arriving.  The money did not show up on my first paycheck and when I finally got them to pay me I only received half.  The company told me this was due to my relocation pay being taxed as a bonus.  This detail was never explained to me before I moved and should have been made clear.  As a result of only receiving half of the relocation pay I was promised I could not afford an apartment.

Instead of moving into an apartment which would have cost first and last month’s rent plus a deposit, I had to try and make ends meet in an economy motel.  I was not always able to afford to stay at the motel and sometimes had to sleep outside.  The people I worked for gave me a hard time about my living arrangement, which was caused by the company.  My co workers began to harass me for the entire 10 hour work day.  Prior to the harassment my attendance was considered very good.  Once the harassment began my attendance record began to suffer.  I made several complaints to management and HR about the harassment.  Amazon has a strict policy against harassment, according to them.  I had a manager witness the harassment and began to give them specific names and details about the coworkers who were bothering me.  I am Jewish and was the only Jew i knew of working at that particular warehouse.  I let management know this as well.  When my attendance continued to suffer I was fired.

I appealed the termination and had a meeting with the man in charge of the entire warehouse.  He brought my attendance record with him into the meeting.  He showed me how good my attendance was until a certain point.  I told him that is when the harassment began.  He made the decision based on all of the information that my termination should remain in place.

My last option was to go to the ethics committee.  I told them my story and they told me they would give the information to someone at the warehouse.  I told them the story of the man in charge of the warhouse and requested that the case be brought to HR outside of this particular warehouse.  A man from regional HR called me and said he would look into my allegations.  I eventually won my rehire eligibility back and was told that they would try to find me a job in the area in which I now live.  That was months ago.

I have now been homeless since the company fired me in mid September.  Human Resources knows that I am homeless and living in the cold this winter.  I am left wondering why we allow companies to treat their employees this way.  Amazon has to many class action lawsuits filed against them from former employees that going to an attorney will get one no where.  All I did was follow company rules and the company let me down.  I am now looked down upon in the community in which I live because Amazon is dragging its heels.  These people probably bought most of their gifts from Amazon, the same company that does not care if it makes its employees homeless.  So while Amazon will be bringing great joy to thousands of Americans this holiday season,  I am living outdoors in the cold.

Danger on the Tracks

On July 5, 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, a train with 63 cars full of crude oil from the Balkan oil fields in North Dakota experienced brake failure sending the train into the center of town at 65 miles per hour.  When it had reached the center of town the train derailed.  The subsequent explosions and fires detroyed 40 buildings, 53 vehicles and contaminated the nearby river and lake.  47 people lost their lives.  The accident happened in the middle of the night, possibly saving several lives had the town been full of people during the day.  Much of the main part of  town was destroyed.

This accident should be a wake up call for all communities that have oil trains traveling through their cities and towns.  The oil obtained from fracking in North Dakota has a flash point equivalent to gasoline.  One train may have 100 plus tanks carrying the crude oil making it a possible traveling bomb.  The feature photo for this article is a train loaded with tanks carrying crude oil from fracking traveling through downtown Columbus, Ohio.  The train is about to enter a tunnel which travels underground through the center of town.  Many cities and towns have train tracks in highly populated areas.  If one of these trains were to derail and the tanks exploded, are the cities and towns prepared for such a disaster?  Who would oversee the rescue efforts?  Who would be responsible for the cost?  Is the danger posed worth  accessibility to the oil?

I sat in on a hearing in Olympia, Washington where governor Jay Inslee was proposing a fund to have on hand in case of such an emergency.  Executives from BSNF railroad were in attendance.  They stated that in case of a derailment they are the first responders.  They also stated  they can usually have a representative onsite within 24 hours.  Their comment left me with many more questions such as is 24 hours soon enough?  The fund that Jay Inslee created would be helpful if a train were to derail, but it would not cover the enormous expense if the derailment happened in downtown Seattle where the oil trains travel along the waterfront, past football and baseball stadiums and the busy downtown area.  Beside being a danger to the people such an accident might harm, the environmental cleanup would also be a great expense in monetary terms as well as to the local ecosystem.

The Seattle City council came up with a plan after an oil train derailed under a bridge near the downtown area.  That time the city was lucky that no explosions or fires ensued.  The council then realized the city was not prepared for such an accident and came up with a plan.  What the plan does not contain is who would be responsible for paying for damages and clean up.

What can be done to prevent train derailment and accidents involving trains with oil tank cars?  According to the executives from BSNF they have improved the brakes on the trains and are experiencing fewer derailments.  In Lac-Megantic it is thought that having only one employee who had been on the job for a longer than normal work day might have been a large contributor to the brake failure as it was not set correctly by the employee.  Even if safe guards are improved, the danger from the oil produced from fracking remains a great.  Communities with these trains traveling through their cities and towns should prepare an emergency response plan in case of a derailment which would set in motion an organized plan possibly reducing the loss to structures and human life.

Despite Risks to Workers and Consumers, Asbestos Still Legal to Use in the US

 

The most common health problem from exposure to asbestos is malignant mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer.  Symptoms of mesothelioma often do not surface 20 to 40 years or more after first exposure.    Patients have a 1 year survival period once diagnosed with the disease.  

 

Washington state senator Patty Murray has tried to introduce a bill that would ban the use of asbestos in the United States multiple times, but the bills have failed to pass.  More needs to be done to protects workers and consumers from exposure to asbestos.  The public is largely unaware of the products conDespite the many documented health risks to workers and consumers, the use of asbestos has still not been banned in the United States.  Found in products around the home and on construction sites, people are often unaware of their exposure and risk to their health.  A bill to ban the use of asbestos in our country has been introduced multiple times but has failed to pass into law.

 

Asbestos is a commercial name given to a variety of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals.  Its use dates back over 4,000 years ago with large scale mining beginning in the 19th century.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos fibers may be released into the air by the disturbance of asbestos-containing material during product use, demolition work, building or home maintenance, repair, and remodeling. In general, exposure may occur only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged in some way to release particles and fibers into the air.

 

Asbestos has been used in a variety of building construction materials because of its fiber strength and heat resistance.  It may be found in products used for such things as attic and wall insulation, vinyl floors, roofing and siding shingles, textured paint, walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets, water or steam pipes, oil and coal furnaces, heat resistant fabrics, automobile brakes and clutches,  Many people working in professions that use such materials are unaware of the dangers to their health from use and exposure to these products.

 

taining asbestos and what that could mean to their health several years down the road.  Education on asbestos and its dangers is needed and local and federal politicians need to work on passing laws banning its use.  Lawsuits against companies using asbestos knowing the dangers to its workers have been successful but will not bring family members back.  Banning the use of asbestos in the United States is necessary to prevent the deaths of the workers and consumers being exposed to this deadly fiber.