As heat climbed to historic heights last week, Amazon workers at a delivery station on the South Side of Chicago became the latest to protest working conditions at the online retail behemoth.
Early Tuesday morning, 30 workers at Chicago’s DCH1 delivery station came to management with three demands — higher pay during peak delivery periods like Prime Day, health insurance for all workers, and air conditioning — and requested a meeting with the warehouse site leader.
"The only step Amazon management has taken to combat heat exhaustion is to give us popsicles."
That meeting never came to pass; in a Facebook post, warehouse workers said management initially agreed to meet with them as a group, but later reneged on the promise, agreeing only meet with workers individually.
By Friday, temperatures in Chicago had climbed to 95 and a heat advisory was announced. Around 10 p.m. that night, Amazon decided that conditions in the un-air-conditioned warehouse were dangerously hot and sent workers home with pay. Staff had returned to work by Sunday, according to a worker who spoke with BuzzFeed News.
Here’s a video of the Saturday meeting where workers were sent home:
The Amazon warehouse workers, who go by DCH1 Amazonians United, also circulated a public petition online that has garnered over 4,700 signatures so far.
“The issues speak for themselves,” the petition reads. “Our pay is inadequate. We need access to healthcare. And an 'Excessive Heat Watch' is in effect this week, and the only step Amazon management has taken to combat heat exhaustion is to give us popsicles. We need real solutions.”
The Chicago action, and Amazon’s decision to temporarily close the facility, comes on the heels of Prime Day, an annual sale that Amazon says drove record sales of over 175 million items. Amazon employees in Minnesota who’ve been trying to organize a warehouse there walked off the job on Prime Day last week; a small cadre of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group joined them, and collected hundreds of words of support from other employees.
In their initial open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the climate activist employees asked for "[f]air treatment of all employees during climate disruptions and extreme weather events", writing that "[u]nsafe or inaccessible workplaces should not be a reason to withhold pay, terminate, or otherwise penalize employees."
The Chicago Amazon warehouse worker who spoke with BuzzFeed News anonymously said these events helped spur the movement in Chicago.
“DCH1 Amazonians United as a group decided, 'Hey, we know that Prime Day is coming up, we‘ve seen announcements from Minneapolis workers going on strike, we’ve seen news coverage, and we’ve seen that Prime Week is going to be one of the hottest weeks,'" this worker said. "It was at that time the organization decided that this will be a good time for us to think about putting together a petition.”
The warehouse workers' group had previously conducted a survey of workers in the delivery station and determined that pay, health care, and the heat were the top three issues for staff. "We wanted a petition to state to management, to the public, and to our communities that as workers, we all want the same things," the worker said.
Inicjatywa Pracownicza, or Workers' Initiative, one of the labor groups that’s been organizing Amazon warehouses in Poland, commented on the Chicago workers’ Facebook page: “Respect, solidarity from Amazon workers from Poland! Without fight do not hope for better life!”
In an email statement, an Amazon spokesperson said, "The safety and well-being of Amazon associates and drivers is our number one priority. We closely monitor temperature conditions in all buildings and are in continuous communication with associates and drivers to ensure they are safe in their work environment."