Worker Correspondents: Workers Organize Slowdown in Protest at Amazon PIT5 Sortation Center

Photo credit: Maryland GovPics

By Oliver Williams

Last week, workers at the PIT5 Amazon distribution center in Crafton, Pennsylvania organized a slowdown to protest the facility’s unsafe working conditions. One worker explained to Tribune: “Management doesn’t do their job and then we have to fix their mistakes. I’m sick of it. I’m not working on commission here, I don’t get paid more for moving more packages. You’re not going to see me break my back for this job.”

For small packages at the sortation center, four people normally load them onto a conveyor belt while four others sort them off the belt. However, due to a spill in a dumper (a machine that dumps loads of packages to be placed on the conveyor belt) earlier in the processing chain, 5,000 fewer packages than the assigned target number could be processed. Management ordered a work speedup by assigning two more people to load packages onto the belt, but they neglected to add any additional people to sort them off. This resulted in these four workers having to work far faster than their usual speed, which is already at the limit of what workers can achieve even moderately safely.

Maintaining safe working techniques at such speeds is not possible. As a worker at the center put it: “They tell us not to twist [our backs], but when it’s going this fast, you’re going to have to strain to keep up.” Five of the six workers loading packages onto the belt noticed this problem, and halfway through the shift, they organized to work at half speed for 40 minutes, both to give the four sorting workers, one of whom participated in the slowdown, a more manageable workload and to protest the management’s unreasonable demands.

The PIT5 Sortation Center, like many Amazon workplaces, is notoriously unsafe and poorly maintained. In addition to the strain injuries caused by the hard, fast, and repetitive tasks that Amazon jobs require, there have been several cases of dangerous machinery breakage and one gas leak within the PIT5 sortation center alone. While Amazon treats these incidents as unavoidable bad luck, they are direct results of the company’s policy of cutting corners wherever possible to maximize profits, including by refusing to repair worn-out or malfunctioning equipment until it breaks completely.

For instance, the dumper involved in the spill has been leaking hydraulic fluid for two weeks, and it still has not been repaired, causing the area to resemble “a swamp,” as one worker describes. Another worker had this to say about the leakage: “It’s toxic, and they’re letting it just spill out on the ground around workers. You can see it dripping out all day. They talk about safety, but they never fix anything.”

Another dumper is being held together with a single piece of plywood, a cheap, improvised “fix” that could fail at any time. As one worker described this hazard: “Normally a dumper goes up smooth, comes back down. The one in inbound jerks as its going up because there’s only a board holding it in place. Somebody could get really hurt if it fell, it’s a giant metal box.”

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