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Amazon warehouses and mental health: 911 calls reveal some workers are struggling

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New details have recently been uncovered about alleged conditions inside Amazon warehouses. 911 calls reviewed by the Daily Beast suggest that the tech company’s work conditions are so difficult, they’re apparently causing some employees to want to take their own lives.

The Daily Beast recently got access to records of 189 emergency incidents that occurred at 46 Amazon facilities between December 2013 and December 2018 — when 911 was dialed, as well as when emergency personnel were summoned to a fulfillment center. These calls suggested that the employees demonstrated suicidal tendencies. While their jobs were likely not the sole cause of these tendencies, many employees said Amazon contributed to their struggles.

“Breakdowns” at Amazon facilities, per one former employee, are a “regular occurrence.”

In a statement to Vox, Amazon wrote:

The physical and mental well-being of our associates is our top priority, and we are proud of both our efforts and overall success in this area. We provide comprehensive medical care starting on day one so employees have access to the care when they need it most, 24-hour a day free and confidential counseling services, and various leave and medical accommodation options covering both mental and physical health concerns.

For years, Amazon warehouse workers have spoken up about what they call the company’s poor conditions. These emergency calls illustrate that such conditions can be especially difficult for those already struggling with mental health issues.

In November 2018, Seth King, a former Amazon warehouse employee, told Vox that it took him two months on the job at Amazon to realize that the “grueling, depressing” work was bringing him to “the lowest point in my life.”

“You spend 10 hours on foot, there’s no windows in the place, and you’re not allowed to talk to people — there’s no interactions allowed,” King told Vox. “I got a sense in no time at all that they work people to death, or until they get too tired to keep working. I felt I couldn’t work there and maintain a healthy state of mind.”


The view of the Amazon fulfillment center on Ffordd Amazon, Skewen, on December 2, 2014, in Swansea, United Kingdom.
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Currently, Amazon employs more than 647,000 people around the world, with 125,000 employees working at fulfillment centers in the US. The company is often praised as a major source of employment opportunities. In October 2018, the company also announced it would raise the minimum wage for its workers to $15 an hour.

But accusations that Amazon treats workers poorly have long dogged the e-commerce giant, and King’s accusations were not isolated. From reports about poor air conditioning to timed bathroom breaks to employees being under constant surveillance, the list is long. In December, East African Amazon workers in Minneapolis rallied for fair religious treatment, saying that Amazon’s allotted two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute break each shift were not enough time for Muslims to pray.

Amazon’s warehouse troubles aren’t unique to the US. Workers in warehouses across Spain, Germany, Italy, and the UK have participated in walkouts, like the ones held on Black Friday 2018 to protest work conditions. GMB, a union that organized protests at Amazon warehouses in England, found in an investigation last year that 600 ambulances visited British Amazon facilities. It also discovered there were 602 reports filed to England’s Health and Safety Executive, with issues including electric shocks, bleeding, trauma, and issues with pregnant women who were forced to stand for 10 hours.

“They are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious, and being taken away in ambulances,” GMB General Secretary Tim Roache said when the Amazon protests for Black Friday were announced. “We’re standing up and saying enough is enough, these are people making Amazon its money. People with kids, homes, bills to pay — they’re not robots.”

When it comes to the environment inside Amazon warehouses, tales of struggles don’t just come from those who are packing boxes. Managers, too, have said that Amazon encourages them to maintain a pressure cooker environment.

“Amazon never trained us in how to communicate with associates,” one former manager told Vox last November. “We weren’t trained to be understanding of their struggles or communicate with them. It was all about mechanics. “

According to this former manager, one feeling across Amazon is that “workers constantly feel like their jobs are on the line,” and she said that in fact they are. The manager noted that Amazon had an automatic firing system, where workers would be terminated if they took more than an hour break. Workers, the manager said, were also written up if they didn’t keep up with the facilities packing rate, and several write-ups could mean termination.

“We were supposed to be observing their [packing] rate and not be concerned with how hard it is to pack things,” the manager said. “Managers were pressured to identify the weak links and get them out so that we can have a faster rate.”


A representative from GMB, the union for Amazon workers, holds a sign stating “we are not robots” during a protest over what it claims are “inhuman conditions” at Amazon fulfillment centers on Black Friday 2018.
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

According to the calls reviewed by the Daily Beast, some emergency calls made from Amazon warehouses appear to be connected with this type of pressure. In one sheriff’s report from December 2017, for example, a woman working at a warehouse in Jacksonville, Florida, said “she was going to go home and kill herself” after she’d gotten fired. A supervisor said they witnessed her hurting herself because she had been fired and felt she “did not have anything to live for,” and the woman told police she had planned to hurt herself.

According to another sheriff report from a facility in Etna, Ohio, filed in July 2018, a man had said that “with all the demands his employer has placed on him and things he’s dealing with in life, [it was] becoming too much,” and that he’d consider hurting himself. The employee, per the report, worked at “Amazon for over a year and is frustrated with his employment because he felt he was lied to by Amazon at his orientation. He keeps saying the company told him they valued his employment and would be treated as if he mattered and not just a number.”

In an email to Vox, an Amazon spokesperson pointed out that suicide is a mental health crisis, and that plenty of large-scale companies are dealing with similar issues.

But these broader environmental problems have been raised by many employees, not just the ones who have reached out for help or expressed struggles with mental health. Khadra Ibrahin, a 28-year-old single mother of two and Somali immigrant in Minneapolis, for example, works at Amazon’s Shakopee fulfillment center and was one of the people rallying for more break times to pray. She said in December that the pressures of the job can make any employee feel bad.

“Every time I walk through those doors, I am filled with dread that tonight is going to be the night that I get fired,” she told Vox. “When you take a job at a warehouse, you have to be mentally and physically prepared for a certain kind of work, but I have never felt threatened by a workplace like this before. I want to keep this job to provide for my family, and I am also working as hard as I can, but you can’t live under this type of pressure. The way Amazon pushes people is not moral.”

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20 People Share Secrets From Their Jobs and Now We Can’t Sleep Well

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Almost every job has its own secrets and nuances that very few people know. The people of different professions shared secrets from their jobs on Reddit and on Twitter and some of their stories may seriously change the way you see the world.

We at Bright Side, of course, don’t have any secrets like these, but as it turns out, not all other professions are as transparent as they seem to be.

  • Truck driver: 9 out of 10 truck drivers travel with a smartphone on their windshield watching a TV-series. Stay away from big trucks.
  • Disney World employee: There are secret tunnels underneath both Epcot and the Magic Kingdom (and probably other parks too) that enable the cast members to travel across the park pretty quickly and easily.

Comment from a park-goer: My father suffered a heart attack while visiting Epcot. I have never witnessed a faster medical response with professionals appearing from seemingly nowhere with just as fast transport through underground tunnels. It was a lifesaver. He was transported to a Disney hospital where he received great care after an emergency surgery and our stay was extended by 3 weeks.

  • IT support people: (help desks, computer repair shops, Geek Squad, etc.) are mostly just better at Googling than you are.
  • Employee at a flour factory: Wheat flour is not actually white. We use chlorine to make it look more attractive. This also increases the gluten level in flour, and this is why people are more gluten-sensitive today.
  • Rescue team member: When you are a young lifeguard, you always have a radio with you 24/7. And you always listen to what happens in the city. If you are going, for example, to a birthday party in your own car and then you hear there is a fire on a nearby street, you turn the car and drive there! (I have my own gear in the car). @Moscow_Spasatel
  • Olive oil factory employee: We had only one kind of oil but we put it in 27 different containers and sold it at different prices. Some of them were labeled as imported, some were called the highest quality oil. But it was the same oil in every single bottle.
  • IT-service engineer: When someone is fixing your computer, they also often look through the data on your hard drive searching for something funny or embarrassing. So, before you give your computer to an IT service, clear your browser history, and copy all the important data to an external drive.
  • Candle factory: Paraffin candles are dangerous and poisonous. Because I know what we added in there (even to the candles that say “100% paraffin”), I will never ever use candles again. If you need to use them for some reason, buy candles made of bee’s wax without any scents.
  • Sommelier: Wine isn’t vegan. It’s not even vegetarian in some cases. The filtering (refining) process uses egg whites, and sometimes isinglass (fish parts).

  • Movie theater: A large bag of popcorn that costs the customer $5.99 (at the time) cost the movie theatre 6 cents to produce, including the butter, the kernels, the bag, the power used by the popper and the time it took the concession employee to fill up the bag and give it to the customer.
  • Internet services: Most “subscription services” will raise their prices over time because they expect you to just live with it. This applies to phone bills, cable packages, internet service, insurance plans… Call up, politely complain about the price. Skip the canned “well the price has gone up because inflation/rising costs/age/end of promotion” and continue to politely say it’s too much, your budget can’t handle all your outgoings and you may need to drop the service. Either you are speaking to someone who can reduce the price, or they can put you through to a person authorized to reduce the price.
  • Mechanic: If you want to go on vacation and you don’t know where to leave your car, get it to a mechanic. Many people do this. It’s ridiculously cheap and you can be away for a month! It is much more expensive to use parking lots. @Neformatws
  • Pharmacist: I’ve worked at several factories that manufacture medications. And the rules were the same everywhere: if you dropped pills on the floor, just put them back into the bottle. So, maybe your medications are not as clean as you think.
  • Librarian: The amount of toilet paper, random items, and bills used as bookmarks that are left in returned library books is unbelievable!
  • Doctor: We spend so much time to be good at what we do, that we know almost nothing about other things.

Is there something about your job that is kept secret?

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The spring equinox is Wednesday, March 20: 7 things to know about the first day of spring.

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The vernal equinox is upon us: On Wednesday, March 20, both the Northern and Southern hemispheres will experience an equal amount of daylight. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the beginning of spring, with daylight hours continuing to lengthen until the summer solstice in June. For those south of the equator, it’s the beginning of autumn.

Technically speaking, the equinox occurs when the sun is directly in line with the equator. This will happen at 5:58 pm Eastern time on Wednesday. (A few hours later, at 9:43 pm, you can look out for the “supermoon”, the last one until 2020.)

Below is a short scientific guide to the most equal night of the year.

1) Why do we have an equinox?

The equinox, the seasons, and the changing length of daylight hours throughout the year are all due to one fact: The Earth spins on a tilted axis.

The tilt — possibly caused by a massive object hitting Earth billions of years ago — means that for half the year, the North Pole is pointed toward the sun (as in the picture below). For the other half of the year, the South Pole gets more light. It’s what gives us seasons.


NASA

Here’s a time-lapse demonstration of the phenomenon shot over the course of a whole year from space. In the video, you can see how the line separating day from night swings back and forth from the poles during the year.



NASA/Meteosat/Robert Simmon

And here’s yet another cool way to visualize the seasons. In 2013, a resident of Alberta, Canada, took this pinhole camera photograph of the sun’s path throughout the year and shared it with the astronomy website EarthSky. You can see the dramatic change in the arc of the sun from December to June.

This is a 6 month pinhole photo taken from solstice to solstice, in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. We are one of the sunniest cities in Canada, and this shows it nicely.

Posted by Ian Hennes on Saturday, December 21, 2013

(You can easily make a similar image at home. All you need is a can, photo paper, some tape, and a pin. Instructions here.)

2) How many hours of daylight will I get Wednesday?

Equinox literally means “equal night.” And during the equinox, most places on Earth will see approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.

But not every place will experience the exact same amount of daylight. For instance, on Wednesday, Fairbanks, Alaska, will see 12 hours and 15 minutes of daylight. Key West, Florida, will see 12 hours and six minutes. The differences are due to how the sunlight gets refracted (bent) as it enters Earth’s atmosphere at different latitudes.

That daylight is longer than 12 hours on the equinox is also due to how we commonly measure the length of a day: from the first hint of the sun peeking over the horizon in the morning to the very last glimpse of it before it falls below the horizon in the evening. Because the sun takes some time to rise and set, it adds some extra daylight minutes.

Check out TimeAndDate.com to see how many hours of sunlight you’ll get during the equinox.

3) Over the course of the entire year, does every spot on Earth get an equal number of daylight hours?

In the summer months, the northernmost latitudes get a lot of daylight. Above the Arctic Circle, during the summer, there’s 24 hours of daylight. In the winter, the Arctic Circle is plunged into constant darkness.

So does this mean the number of daylight hours — in total, over the course of the year — equal out to places where the seasonal difference is less extreme?

The answer to this question is somewhat surprising: Roughly speaking, everywhere on Earth sees a similar number of daylight hours every year. But the equator actually gets slightly fewer daylight hours than the poles.

As astronomer Tony Flanders explained for Sky & Telescope magazine, sunlight at the poles gets refracted more than sunlight at the equator. That refracting results in the visible disc of the sun being slightly stretched out (think of when the full moon is near the horizon and looks huge — it’s being refracted too). And the refracted, stretched-out sun takes slightly longer to rise and set. Flanders estimated that the equator spends around 50.5 percent of its year in sunlight, while the poles spend between 51.5 and 53 percent of their years in sunlight.

And, of course, this is how much sunlight these areas could potentially receive if the weather were always perfectly clear; it’s not how much sunlight they actually see, nor the strength of the sunlight that hits their ground. “Where are the places on Earth that receive the largest amount of solar radiation?” is a slightly different question, the answer to which can be seen on the chart below.



US Energy Information Administration

4) Can I really only balance an egg on its tip during on the equinox?

Perhaps you were told as a child that on the equinox, it’s easier to balance an egg vertically on a flat surface than on other days of the year.

The practice originated in China as a tradition on the first day of spring in the Chinese lunar calendar in early February. According to the South China Morning Post, “The theory goes that at this time of year the moon and earth are in exactly the right alignment, the celestial bodies generating the perfect balance of forces needed to make it possible.”

This is a myth. The amount of sunlight we get during the day has no power over the gravitational pull of the Earth or our abilities to balance things upon it. You can balance an egg on its end any day of the year (if you’re good at balancing things).


This man is very good at balancing eggs.
AFP/Getty Images

5) Is there an ancient monument that does something cool during the equinox?

During the winter and summer solstices, crowds flock to Stonehenge in the United Kingdom. During the solstices, the sun either rises or sets in line with the layout of the 5,000-year-old-monument. And while some visit Stonehenge for the spring equinox too, the real place to be is in Mexico.

That’s because on the equinox, the pyramid at Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula puts on a wondrous show. Built by the Mayans around 1,000 years ago, the pyramid is designed to cast a shadow on the equinox outlining the body of Kukulkan, a feathered snake god. A serpent-head statue is located at the bottom of the pyramid, and as the sun sets on the day of the equinox, the sunlight and shadow show the body of the serpent joining with the head.

This is easier to see in a video. Check it out below.

6) Are there equinoxes on other planets?

Yes! All the planets in the solar system rotate on a tilted axis and therefore have seasons. Some of these tilts are minor (like Mercury, which is tilted at 2.11 degrees). But others are more like the Earth (tilted at 23.5 degrees) or are even more extreme (Uranus is tilted 98 degrees!).

Below, see a beautiful composite image of Saturn on its equinox captured by the Cassini spacecraft (RIP) in 2009. The gas giant is tilted 27 degrees relative to the sun, and equinoxes on the planet are less frequent than on Earth. Saturn only sees an equinox about once every 15 years (because it takes Saturn 29 years to complete one orbit around the sun).


Cassini Imaging Team/NASA

During Saturn’s equinox, its rings become unusually dark. That’s because these rings are only around 30 feet thick. And when light hits them head on, there’s not much surface area to reflect.

7) I clicked this article accidentally and really just want a mind-blowing picture of the sun


The sun blew out a coronal mass ejection along with part of a solar filament over a three-hour period (February 24, 2015). Some of the strands fell back into the sun.
Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

The image above was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft launched in 2010 to better understand the sun.

This past summer, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft that will come within 4 million miles of the surface of the sun (much closer than any spacecraft has been before). The goal is to study the sun’s atmosphere, weather, and magnetism and figure out the mystery of why the sun’s corona (its atmosphere) is much hotter than its surface. Still, even several million miles away, the probe will have to withstand temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s essential to understand the sun: It’s nothing to mess with. Brad Plumer wrote for Vox about what happens when the sun erupts and sends space weather our way to wreak havoc on Earth.

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