Amazon Says Ex-Worker’s Claim of ‘Cult-Like’ Work Conditions Are ‘Absolutely Not True’

December 3, 2019 Updated: December 3, 2019

Retail giant Amazon has denied claims made by a former warehouse worker, Maureen Donnelly, who branded the company a “cult-like” workplace run by robots in a scathing interview with the New York Post this week.

Donnelly, 46, told the publication that she began working at Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center when it opened in September 2018 but was forced to quit just one month later due to the working conditions.

However, speaking to The Epoch Times, Amazon spokeswoman Rachael Lighty has now claimed that Donnelly worked just 11 days at the company and insists her account of working in their Staten Island building is inaccurate.

“We are proud of our safe workplaces and her allegations are demeaning to our passionate employees, whose pride and commitment are what make the Amazon customer experience great,” Lighty said, before encouraging members of the public to take a free tour to “see for themselves what it’s like to work at Amazon.”

In her interview with The NY Post, Donnelly made a number of claims about life as an Amazon employee, including a detailed account of break times, telling the publication that she had barely had enough time to eat half a sandwich and have a cigarette during her 30-minute lunch break.

Donnelly said this was due to the fact that it had taken her 15 minutes to walk to the designated lunchroom area as the warehouse in which she worked was so big.

However, Lighty dismissed these claims. “In addition to two main break areas on two separate floors, we have more than 13 satellite break rooms for employees on each floor throughout the site, as well as dozens of bathrooms throughout each floor,” she told The Epoch Times.

“Employees should never be more than 2.5 minutes away from a break room to use the restroom, grab a snack or take a break.”

Former Emergency Medical Technician Donnelly said that on one occasion, a manager at the Staten Island fulfilment center had cut five minutes off of her break time because she had left her shift early to use the bathroom.

Lighty said this was “absolutely not true” and Amazon employees can take “short, paid breaks at any time which do not count toward their scheduled breaks.”

“Employees at our Staten Island fulfillment center work four days on, three days off, 10 hour shifts with one 30 minute scheduled break and two 15-minute scheduled breaks,” she added.

Elsewhere in her interview, Donnelly claimed that it was “hot as hell” in the building she was employed in, saying it “felt like 150 degrees” but that employees were denied the use of fans because the robots that she worked alongside in the warehouse “don’t function well in the cold.”

Lighty again contested Donnelly’s comments, saying: “All fulfillment centers are built with climate control and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system is designed to keep associates comfortable and safe all year round.”

The spokeswoman added that a safety team monitors the temperature on every floor of the building daily, while a site safety team also monitors airflow and adjusts the temperature accordingly throughout the day to ensure safe and comfortable working conditions for employees.

In some areas, the site has installed fans to assist with airflow, she added.

Donnelly said she had quit her job at Amazon after, among other reasons, it became obvious that she would not meet her “projections” of stocking at least 12 items a minute.

She told the publication: “I was not even close. It’s physically impossible,” before describing how the job had left her with aches and pains.

“The job crushed my spirit—and crippled my body. I would spend nearly 12 hours a day with no one to talk to for more than five minutes. My knees were killing me. My back and shoulders constantly hurt. My left hip throbbed,” she said.

In response to this, Lighty explained that, like most companies, Amazon has performance expectations for all of its employees but that the company “focuses on safety and accuracy first” and provides support and dedicated coaching to employees who are not performing to the levels expected.

The NY Post reported that Donnelly wasn’t alone in her complaints, and that more than 100 workers gathered outside the same Staten Island fulfilment center last month to protest working conditions and highlight new data showing the rate of worker injury at the facility is three times higher than the national average for similar warehouse work.

But Lighty again claims this is untrue, saying that only 5 of the 100 plus workers who participated in the protest were associated with Amazon. “It was obvious to the 4,500-full-time workforce that an outside organization used our building and the upcoming retail holidays to raise its own visibility and spread misinformation,” she said.

According to earlier reports, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union approached the National Labor Relations Board in March to present the case of another former employee of the Staten Island warehouse, Justin Rashad Long, who lost his job after he complained about difficult working conditions. The same union had earlier led a push to block a second Amazon headquarters opening in Queens.

The spokesperson reiterated that Amazon provides a “safe, quality work environment in which associates are the heart and soul of the customer experience,” adding that the protest and the “lack of Amazon employee participation” shows that “associates know this to be true.”

“Simply put, people would not want to work for Amazon if our working conditions truly were as our critics portray them to be in this period of record low unemployment and plentiful job opportunities,” Light added.