‘It’s Hell for Us’: Amazon Warehouse Workers Are Melting Under the Heat Dome

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

As a record-breaking heat wave grips the Midwest and Northeast this week, workers, especially those laboring outdoors, are facing dangerous conditions.

But even indoor workers—such as those in Amazon fulfillment centers across the country—say they’re battling extreme temperatures with little to no reduction in their fast-paced, physically demanding routines.

One union organizer at a West Deptford, New Jersey warehouse took readings with a room thermometer on Tuesday and clocked temps of 92 degrees in a trailer where people lift heavy boxes and 83 degrees in other areas of the building.

She sent her results to Make the Road New Jersey, an immigrant rights and labor nonprofit that’s rallying for state legislation protecting workers from excessive heat. The bill, from Democratic state Sen. Joe Cryan, would require employers to provide cold water and rest breaks and postpone “tasks that are not urgent until the heat wave is over.”

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“We want to meet this exact moment that we’re in, where we have temperatures that are hitting the mid-90s and will hit the upper 90s by the end of the week,” Garrett O’Connor, Make the Road New Jersey’s director of worker organizing and policy, told The Daily Beast.

O’Connor pointed to the 2022 death of one Amazon warehouse employee in New Jersey as proof that indoor laborers need heat protection too.

As The Daily Beast reported, Rafael Reynaldo Mota Frias, 42, died during a Prime Day sales rush. At the time, coworkers told us they believed he was overworked and overheated. (Separately, NBC reported that the company installed new fans and an upgraded A/C system in the weeks after Mota Frias died.)

Still, an Amazon spokesperson said Mota Frias’ passing was not work-related and instead due to “a personal medical condition. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) made the same finding and closed its case, issuing no health or safety violations to Amazon.”

In response to union organizer criticisms, Amazon says it is one of few companies to provide air-conditioning at its warehouses, along with a variety of other cooling measures, and that it trains employees about preventing heat-related illnesses, and encourages them to take cool-down breaks.

The company has said its systems “constantly measure the temperature and heat index (temperature plus humidity) in our facilities and proactively alert employees when climate conditions change.”

“Safety is, and always will be, our top priority,” said Amazon spokesman Steve Kelly. “In addition to scheduled break and lunch times, employees are free to take short breaks as needed to use the restroom, grab water, or speak to a manager, HR, or others.”

Around the time Mota Frias died, O’Connor says his group represented two employees at another, non-Amazon facility who were dealing with extreme heat. Their company denied their requests to install fans or rotate work duties to lighten the load. “Eventually just for raising these issues … they lost their jobs,” he said.

The fear, O’Connor added, is that workers “may be confronted with the same issue of having to choose between a paycheck or a job and their life.”

Cryan’s bill defines “excessive heat” as a heat index of 80 degrees outdoors, and 80 degrees indoors when employees are present, or when the heat index equals or exceeds 80 degrees, among other variables.

“I’m 62,” Cryan told The Daily Beast. “When I was a kid, a really hot day was 80 degrees, you went to the beach, everybody ran for cover. Today we take 90-plus and 100 like it’s almost normal. It affects people [with] death and dehydration.”

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“For a lot of people, it means going to work in really difficult conditions,” he added. “Frankly, a lot of them bring a package to your door—give them a little thought here.”

Online Amazon worker forums, including on Reddit, are filled with complaints about hot areas in warehouses. Last month, one Redditor shared an employee’s gripe on one facility’s Voice of Associates (VOA) internal message board about malfunctioning fans. "It’s completely ridiculous that we’re expected to keep up with the volume we’ve had lately in the harsh heat,” the person wrote. “I spend more time wiping sweat off my face than I do actually doing work.”

One commenter replied that their own warehouse A/C wasn’t turned on and bigger fans weren’t enough. “Every time we mention the issue, we’re gaslighted into oblivion about it,” the person wrote, adding, “They wrote off our heat rashes as poor hygiene, and passing out as our own failure to stay hydrated.” (Amazon says the comment is contrary to the company’s 24/7 climate controls.)

Yet, for its part, Amazon says it keeps employees safe with climate-control systems in all of its fulfillment centers and air-conditioned vans at its Amazon Air hubs—and that its protocols “often exceed industry standards.” It also offers workers pallets with extra water and electrolyte packets.

As for the West Deptford warehouse, Kelly said the company frequently monitors temperatures for safety and added industrial fans to its inbound and outbound docks in May. He said in the last day, the average temperature at the fulfillment center was 72 degrees, with a high of 83 degrees.

A photograph of an Amazon Prime van.

An Amazon Prime van waits outside an Amazon fulfillment center.

Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Not all employees, however, feel able to slow down. Some told The Daily Beast they feared failing to meet productivity metrics could eventually lead to them losing their jobs.

This week, California regulators announced they fined two Amazon facilities a total of nearly $6 million for violating a state law requiring warehouses to inform employees in writing of any quotas they must follow. The company is appealing the penalties.

Amazon has said it doesn’t use “quotas” that require associates to meet specific productivity speeds or targets, and that assessing a staffer’s performance is far more complicated, taking into consideration time and tenure and safe work practices.

Managers will contact employees performing in the bottom five percent of their peers to see if they need additional training or support, the company says; terminating an employee for failing to meet benchmarks is extremely rare.

“Our approach ensures everyone is on equal footing and their performance evaluation is insulated from things outside of employees’ control—like changes in the business, inventory, freight mix, or seasonal impacts,” Kelly said.

Meanwhile, employees at Amazon’s air cargo center in Northern Kentucky—which processes millions of packages per week in the Cincinnati area—are also enduring sweltering conditions thanks to the region’s heat index topping 100 degrees.

Marcio Rodriguez, a ramp worker and union organizer at Amazon’s KCVG air hub in Florence, Kentucky, said management doesn’t always advise employees to take 15-minute heat breaks each hour as required during high temps.

Asked for comment, Kelly said, “This doesn’t reflect the heat mitigation practices in place at KCVG” and that employees can take breaks as needed.

Rodriguez told the Daily Beast that he was driving an aircraft tug on Monday when he started getting a headache and recognized symptoms of heat exhaustion. “I had to take it upon myself to take those breaks, hoping the management wouldn’t write me up for taking extra breaks,” he said.

Ramp workers often sweat 10-hour shifts, loading and unloading the e-commerce giant’s planes and trucks. On the plane, “it’s usually about 10 to 15 degrees hotter than it is down on the ground,” Rodriguez said. “You’re in a metal cylinder with the sun just baking on it. It gets pretty hot.”

“As soon as you come out, it looks like you took a shower because you’re sweating so much,” he added. “It’s a very dangerous job if you’re not keeping hydrated. If you’re not taking the proper cooling breaks.”

In recent days, managers handed out Camelbaks, hydration backpacks typically used for outdoor recreation. “But to fill these things up, you obviously need water,” he said. “And we keep running out of water out on the ramp. Ice machines run out of ice.”

Rodriguez said the air-conditioning has been breaking on vans that transport crews of eight to 12 people from the main break room to the ramp.

“We’ve asked management to fix these vans, so we could have a proper way to have a cooling break. What they tell us instead is just to turn off the vans, so we don’t break the A/C. In these grueling heats, I think we deserve a little bit of a cooling break because we are outside every day. Workers are gonna get sick.”

Amazon denied these claims, saying that cooling and hydration stations are stocked every two hours by the site safety operations team, and that vans with mechanical issues are rotated out of service. (Kelly said KCVG has more than 10 vans in reserve so that if the A/C were down in one, it would easily be replaced with another vehicle.)

The company also says employees are only asked to turn vans off when they take breaks inside the building.

Last month, Rodriguez encouraged workers not to start their shifts until management fixed three vans with broken air-conditioning. Only then, he claims, did the company provide replacements. Rodriguez says he’s had a target on his back ever since, with disciplinary writeups, monitoring, and meetings with bosses.

“They treat us like numbers,” Rodriguez said. “We’re the ones who make this company these billions of dollars. Without us, these planes would not be going in and out. And the least they could do is actually make sure that we’re going home safe at the end of the day.”

Amazon said it gave Rodriguez warnings for safety and behavioral-based policy violations as it would any other employee. “Mr. Rodriguez received a final written warning for violating Amazon’s policies by using a vape on an active airplane ramp,” Kelly said. “This has nothing to do with whether Mr. Rodriguez supports a particular cause or group, but rather his disregard for our safety policies.”

But Rodriguez believes the company only penalized him because of his union organizing, including participating in a “march on the boss” event where employees accused the company of violating labor laws by intimidating workers.

“Funny they didn’t mention the final written for insubordination for not taking down my union tables,” Rodriguez told us, adding that he used his vape in an area where he regularly sees coworkers do the same.

“The writeup happened the same day I led the job action for the A/C in the vans,” he said.

The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Amazon earlier this year after finding the company intimidated, demoted, and threatened to call cops on employees trying to unionize the air hub. (Amazon called the board’s accusations “without merit” and said it would “continue to defend our position as the legal process continues,” the Washington Post reported.)

Concerns about heat in Amazon facilities and inside delivery trucks—despite Amazon claiming all are equipped with A/C—run by third-party contractors are nothing new.

Last year, workers at a Garner, North Carolina, warehouse claimed that temperatures inside were too hot even during the winter.

The News & Observer, a regional newspaper in Raleigh, reported that two employees were transported to local hospitals after feeling faint during their shifts. An Amazon spokesperson called workers’ claims of excessive temps “factually untrue and misleading,” and said the Garner facility was between 70 and 73 degrees.

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The company, however, announced in an employee newsletter that it would install nearly 80 “large commercial grade fans” in the building by summer.

Rev. Ryan Brown, a warehouse employee and labor organizer, told The Daily Beast that he’s concerned about how upcoming Amazon Prime Day sales will impact workers confronting a sizzling summer and the possibility of mandatory overtime.

“While the general public and our customers will only have two days, for most of us, that’s going to be a six-day work week,” said Brown, who leads Carolina Amazonians United for Solidarity and Empowerment, or C.A.U.S.E.

Brown, who works in the pack singles department, fears “we’re going to have multiple workers passing out because of the pace of the work” and “a lot of injuries,” as well as terminations of employees who can’t meet production metrics.

“Before we demanded fans, it was extremely hot. It was an everyday experience to see a worker pass out,” Brown said.

“For a lot of people, it’s just boom, click that little button, and it’s here the same day,” Brown continued, “but it’s hell for us.”

Amazon’s spokesman was adamant the company is leading the way when it comes to worker-safe warehouses.

“We have industry-leading heat mitigation programs and technology across our network and many other companies are only now starting to do things we’ve done for years, like add air conditioning to warehouses or delivery vans,” Kelly said.

“While no company is perfect, we work hard to keep our team safe and are proud of the thousands of team members who work together to both prepare for and respond to these unprecedented heatwaves.”

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