Union agitator graffitis sidewalk outside Amazons South Lake Union headquarters.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • Union agitator graffitis sidewalk outside Amazon's South Lake Union headquarters.

Speaking at a labor-sponsored rally in the plaza outside Amazon's South Lake Union headquarters, 62-year-old Jim Herbold said he loved his 37 years working in a now-shuttered factory for US Gauge in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. "But I didn't like the union," Herbold admitted bluntly, complaining about the monthly dues and his perceived lack of responsiveness to rank and file members. "But now after working at Amazon," Herbold says of his five months laboring in a sweltering warehouse, "I understand what unions are all about."

It took only five months at Amazons Allentown, PA warehouse to teach Jim Herbold what unions are all about.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • It took only five months at Amazon's Allentown, PA warehouse to teach Jim Herbold what "unions are all about."

As Amazon's presumably better treated white collar workers watched from the windows above, Herbold and fellow Allentown warehouse worker Karen Salasky cataloged a series of abuses and indignities suffered by workers toiling in the Seattle online retail giant's distant colonies. Warehouse temperatures sometimes hit 115 degrees or higher says Salasky, as paramedics waited outside on a daily basis to treat the inevitable fallen. Even in the middle of winter workers would wear shorts and short sleeves in the sweltering warehouse, but when a fire alarm was pulled, they'd be forced to stand outside for hours in the freezing cold with no coats or gloves. Unable to catch the culprit who'd been pulling the fire alarm, Amazon eventually fired the entire night shift on hand during a subsequent incident.

Not that the average warehouse worker lasted more than few months anyway. Amazon's warehouses operate on a point system, and after collecting six points you are gone. Points could be earned for calling in sick, or when your key card didn't work, or in Salasky's case, after her supervisor told her to go home because she was sobbing over the news of the sudden death of a close friend. According to Herbold, one co-worker was fired after asking for time off to allow a knee implant to heal. Another worker was fired after returning from breast cancer treatment.

"We are living human beings, not robots," Salasky complained. She used to order from Amazon all the time, says Salasky, but now after working there "I will no longer order from them again."

Please treat us like dogs, says Working Washington spokesperson Sage Wilson in response to Amazons reputation for treating workers dogs better than its actual workers.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • "Please treat us like dogs," says Working Washington spokesperson Sage Wilson in response to Amazon's reputation for treating workers' dogs better than its actual workers.

These firsthand accounts of the working conditions at Amazon's Allentown warehouse were a far cry from the inviting atmosphere at the attractive new office buildings housing the company's higher paid workers. Amazon has a reputation for providing one of the dog-friendliest workplaces in corporate America, evident from the dozen or so dogs I saw employees walking through the plaza before and during the rally. It was an irony that did not escape Sage Wilson, the spokesperson for Working Washington, the union-backed advocacy group that organized today's rally. "Please treat us like dogs," Wilson demanded.

It sure would be an improvement over what Herbold and Salasky say they experienced.