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Too Big to Care?

Today, the Seattle Times printed this story: “Workers Complain About Amazon Warehouse Jobs” link to article

The story detailed how the heat index at multiple Amazon fulfillment centers became unbearable and unsafe.  At one Amazon fulfillment center, the heat index hit 112 degrees, causing 15 workers to collapse. At another, ambulances stood by to treat the ill. The Times reported that employees who left work due to the heat were disciplined.

It’s stories like this that make me cringe for fulfillment centers. The article paints a very unflattering picture of a publicly traded Goliath treating its employees very poorly. The conditions conjure up 3rd world images. But certainly, not every fulfillment company share’s the ethos of Fulfillment by Amazon.

As a kid, I watched my parents run small businesses. My father, now nearly eighty, still owns a diesel truck shop (where I learned the finer art of toilet cleaning and floor sweeping). He would always refer to his mechanics as “the Boys.” They were his family. He paid them well, treated them really well and kept them. Spending time with people who work with their hands; with people who sweat for a living, has had a big influence on how One World runs its fulfillment center.

Several years ago, One World expanded its fulfillment center. From the beginning, we considered how the new building itself would impact the health of our employees. To that end, we installed in-floor radiant heat (winters in So Dak get cold). We also installed air conditioning. The entire building was fully insulated for comfort, health and environmental reasons. For the final touch, we installed huge skylights that provide daylight throughout the new facility. During the installation of the skylights, some of our employees scoffed at the added expense. But no one scoffs now. The new building is a joy to work in, due in large part to the natural light and comfortable temperature.

Any third-party fulfillment company is only as good as its least motivated employee. Our clients count on us to execute at 100% accuracy. That’s unlikely to happen with unhappy employees. It certainly can’t happen with a staff who’s collapsing from heat exhaustion. With that in mind, I always encourage potential clients to consider what it means to closely partner with a fulfillment company. How does that fulfillment company treat its employees? Does the fulfillment company share the client’s values? There are clients who think spending money on the health and happiness of our employees is silly. They care only about the cheapest price. To them, I’ve suggested that they choose a different partner, as they simply don’t share our values.

As Fulfillment by Amazon has shown, sometimes cheap has a high cost.


Thomas E. Unterseher
Co-Founder & CEO
One World Direct