Metro Amazon employees speak out about warehouse conditions

ATLANTA — Many of us use retail giant Amazon because of its convenience and quick delivery. But some of the people who pack and deliver those boxes to your door are speaking out to say they’re treat more like robots than people to meet those delivery deadlines.

Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston started looking into work conditions after hearing allegations of workers using bottles for bathroom breaks and claims workers were fired for speaking about conditions.

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Workers in a nearby Alabama warehouse outside of Birmingham were so fed up with conditions they tried to join a union.

Here in Georgia, one of Amazon’s newest facilities opened in the fall of 2020 in Stone Mountain on the Gwinnett, DeKalb County line. It’s an impressive 640,000 square feet facility employing 3,000 people that work around the clock, in tandem with robots, to select and sort the items you click and buy.

When Huddleston approached Amazon about worker complaints, they offered to give him an exclusive tour of the facility and meet with workers like Jared Lloyd. Lloyd has worked at the warehouse for four months.

“I think it’s great. It’s one of the better jobs I’ve had,” said Jared Lloyd during Huddleston’s tour of the facility. Lloyd works as a “picker” sorting items before they’re shipped.

Fellow employee Jerome Reese was packing boxes to be shipped to customers. He told Huddleston his son already works for the fulfillment center, and his daughter will staring next week.

“The pay is very swell, the benefits are excellent,” Reese said. “I can honestly say this is the best job I’ve had.”

The warehouse is clean, organized and big on safety. But before Channel 2 even walked in the door, an employee approached the news crew and said after two weeks at the warehouse she’s looking for a new job.

“It’s just so unorganized,” said the employee, who asked that Huddleston not use her name for fear of retaliation at Amazon. She said she’s worked in warehouses for 20 years and Amazon’s building is too big, and everything you do is timed. She said strict rules on breaks set employees up to fail.

“If you’re not back at your station before your time, before 30 minutes is up, then they give you a point so 5 points, you’re out of there,” she said.

It’s a similar complaint Huddleston heard in Birmingham, Alabama.

“I’m going to tell y’all a little bit about what we went through to get all y’all those packages,” said Alabama Amazon employee Linda Burns.

Burns spoke to a crowd at a Birmingham event to encourage Amazon employees at a fulfillment center in nearby Bessemer to be the first to join a Union. The employees Huddleston spoke to said they’re treated more like robots than people.

“It’s time for us to take a stand and stand together and fight,” said employee Darryl Richardson.

The effort even got the attention of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Atlanta rapper and activist Killer Mike.

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Amazon may not be the only company with disgruntled employees, but they’re under a microscope because the company has grown so much during the pandemic and CEO Jeff Bezos is now the richest man on earth. Sen. Sanders and Killer Mike said that wealth should trickle down.

“You don’t want economic investment, you want to use me, like an indentured servant to enrich the richest man in the world,” Killer Mike said.

After weeks of debate, the Alabama workers voted not to join the union. Metro Atlanta lawmakers visiting Alabama to support the effort said they’re concerned about work conditions for Georgia’s Amazon employees.

“In the City of South Fulton, we have at least three Amazon warehouses that are adjacent to our city, and many of our city residents work in those warehouses,” said City of South Fulton Councilmen Khalid Kamau.

Channel 2 filed an Open Records Act request and learned the state of Georgia offered Amazon millions of dollars in incentives to bring some of those jobs here.

For the Stone Mountain facility Huddleston visited, the Georgia Department of Economic Development offered more than $19 million in savings if Amazon reached benchmarks, including paying an average annual salary of $32 thousand dollars, or approximately $2,000 a month after taxes.

But the typical cost to rent in that part of the metro ranges from $1,300 to $1,700 a month, according to a Zillow analysis..

Huddleston asked state leaders for an interview about their incentives with Amazon. In an email the Georgia Department of Economic Development stated:

“Global Fortune 500 company Amazon has created more than 21,000 direct full- and part-time jobs in the state, and over $3.2 billion in investments between 2010-2019 alone. Thanks to the unmatched connectivity Georgia offers in the Southeastern U.S., companies like Amazon are part of the story of how we are fulfilling our mission of creating a wide variety of employment opportunities for Georgians. Beyond direct jobs and spending alone, large investments from companies also result in more positive benefits for our communities and small businesses. We thank Amazon for their partnership with our state.”

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The state did not address Huddleston’s specific questions about worker pay or allegations of poor work conditions.

“I am for jobs that have decent wages and decent work conditions, I’m not for jobs just for jobs sake,” Kamau said of the Amazon jobs.

Back at the Stone Mountain fulfillment center, Huddleston asked Jerome Reese about the timed breaks.  He said it does depend on if you work near restrooms and break areas. As far as a union goes, Reese said he’s not opposed to it.

“The company’s been open 6 months. I’m a realist,” Reese said. “There’s some kinks and things we’ve got to work through but other than that it’s a good company.”