The Real Price of Amazon's Free Shipping

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 5:01 AM EDT

A couple of weeks ago, my best friend sent me an email. She just got this new expensive makeup she'd ordered on the internet. It had arrived! But then she remembered that story I wrote about a warehouse in Ohio that ships products from online retailers and how miserable everyone who works there is and how shitty they're treated by their employers, and then she felt really sad. So, hey, she said, thanks a lot.

I'm not going to tell her, but now, via the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, there's more confirmation that products are often shipped from the internets to your house by very demoralized workers operating in very depressing conditions because they have no other job options. Specifically, at the Amazon warehouse in the story, an employee got in touch with OSHA when the heat inside hit 102 degrees. Fifteen workers collapsed, and those that went home to beat the heat got negative marks put on their records.

The Ohio warehouse I visited in June was the same kind of benefitless sweat-box. (It also sounds a lot like the sweltering warehouse described to my colleague Josh Harkinson here.) The Pennsylvania warehouse mentioned in the Morning Call article was not actually run by Amazon, just like the warehouse I was in wasn't run by the retailers whose product they shipped; both are staffed by temporary workers from a contract agency. Amazon responded by saying, "The safety and well-being of our associates is our number one priority." Hmm, no statement yet on whether they're going to make their contractors treat their employees like human beings. In the meantime, every one of Amazon's millions of customers should write them a really angry letter demanding change. Except we won't. Because then our shipping wouldn't be free.