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.”
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.”
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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Look at How Much “Game of Thrones” Characters Have Changed Over 8 Seasons
During the summer of 2019, the final season of Game of Thrones aired. The show had gone on for almost 10 years which is a long time not only for the characters but also for the actors who portrayed them.
Bright Side is remembering what characters looked like in the very first episodes of the groundbreaking series and is comparing them to what they look like in the final season of the show.
1. Cersei Lannister
2. Jon Snow
3. Tyrion Lannister
4. Daenerys Targaryen
5. Sansa Stark
6. Arya Stark
7. Jorah Mormont
9. Jaime Lannister
10. Sandor Clegane
11. Brienne of Tarth
12. Samwell Tarly
13. Davos Seaworth
14. Theon Greyjoy
15. Brandon Stark
Did you watch Game of Thrones? Did you enjoy season 8? Tell us in the comment section below.
Baltimore’s ransomware attack, explained – Vox
Thirteen bitcoins are standing between the city of Baltimore and many of the services and processes its citizens rely on after hackers seized thousands of government computers at the start of the month. The ordeal has been going on for two weeks, and there’s no clear end in sight.
Here’s what’s happening: On May 7, hackers digitally seized about 10,000 Baltimore government computers and demanded around $100,000 worth in bitcoins to free them back up. It’s a so-called “ransomware” attack, where hackers deploy malicious software to block access to or take over a computer system until the owner of that system pays a ransom.
Baltimore, like several other cities that have been hit by such attacks over the past two years, is refusing to pay up. As a result, for two weeks, city employees have been locked out of their email accounts and citizens have been unable to access essential services, including websites where they pay their water bills, property taxes, and parking tickets. This is Baltimore’s second ransomware attack in about 15 months: Last year, a separate attack shut down the city’s 911 system for about a day. Baltimore has come under scrutiny for its handling of both attacks.
The ransomware attacks in Baltimore and other local governments across the US demonstrate that as ransomware attacks spread, and as common targets such as hospitals and schools beef up their online systems’ security, there are still plenty targets vulnerable to this kind of hack. It also exemplifies the conundrum that ransomware victims face: pay up and get your access back, or refuse — potentially costing much more in the long run.
What’s going on in Baltimore, briefly explained
Hackers targeted the city of Baltimore on May 7 using a ransomware called RobbinHood, which, as NPR explains, makes it impossible to access a server without a digital key that only the hackers have.
The Baltimore hackers’ ransom note, obtained by the Baltimore Sun, demanded payment of three bitcoins per system to be unlocked, which amounts to 13 bitcoins to unlock all the seized systems. The note threatened to increase the ransom if it wasn’t paid in four days, and said the information would be lost forever if it wasn’t paid in 10 days. Both deadlines have now passed.
“We won’t talk more, all we know is MONEY! Hurry up! Tik Tak, Tik Tak, Tik Tak!” the note said.
The city government is refusing to pay, meaning that the government email systems and payment platforms the attack took down remain offline. The attack has also harmed Baltimore’s property market, because officials weren’t able to access systems needed to complete real estate sales. (The city said transactions resumed on Monday.)
Baltimore Mayor Jack Young, who’s officially been in his office less than a month, said in a statement on Friday that city officials are “well into the restorative process” and have “engaged leading industry cybersecurity experts who are on-site 24-7 working with us.” The FBI is also involved in the investigation.
“Some of the restoration efforts also require that we rebuild certain systems to make sure that when we restore business functions, we are doing so in a secure manner,” Young said. He did not offer a timeline for when all systems will come back online.
The Baltimore City Council president also plans to form a special committee to investigate this latest attack and try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
A similar attack using RobbinHood hit government computers in Greenville, North Carolina, in April. A spokesperson for Greenville told the Wall Street Journal that the city never wound up paying, and that while its systems aren’t entirely restored, “all of our major technology needs are now being met.”
More than 20 municipalities in the US have been hit by cyberattacks this year alone. And such attacks can be expensive, perhaps especially if targets say they won’t pay. In 2018, hackers demanded that Atlanta pay about $50,000 in bitcoins as part of a ransomware attack. The city refused, and according to a report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News, the attack wound up costing the city $17 million to fix.
Ransomware attacks aren’t new — but we’re still figuring out how to deal with them
In 2017, a ransomware called WannaCry targeted tens of thousands of computers using Microsoft Windows operating systems in more than 100 countries. Officials in the US and the United Kingdom eventually blamed North Korea for the attack. Also in 2017, corporations in the UK, France, Russia, Israel, and Ukraine experienced ransomware attacks. US hospitals were also targeted.
Here’s how Timothy Lee explained for Vox what was going on and how ransomware had become more prolific:
The basic idea behind ransomware is simple: A criminal hacks into your computer, scrambles your files with unbreakable encryption, and then demands that you pay for the encryption key needed to unscramble the files. If you have important files on your computer, you might be willing to pay a lot to avoid losing them.
Ransomware schemes have become a lot more effective since the invention of Bitcoin in 2009. Conventional payment networks like Visa and Mastercard make it difficult to accept payments without revealing your identity. Bitcoin makes that a lot easier. So the past four years have seen a surge in ransomware schemes striking unsuspecting PC users.
Some ransomware schemes are so sophisticated that they even invest in customer service, helping victims who want to pay their ransoms navigate the complexities of obtaining bitcoins and making bitcoin payments.
Since then, a number of sectors and organizations have made improvements to their security practices to protect against ransomware. But the latest Baltimore attack exemplifies what a whack-a-mole game this is: One area improves its practices and hackers just go looking for another.
Recode and Vox have joined forces to uncover and explain how our digital world is changing — and changing us. Subscribe to Recode podcasts to hear Kara Swisher and Peter Kafka lead the tough conversations the technology industry needs today.
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