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Amazon warehouse employee describes ‘grueling’ working conditions during Senate hearing

Jennifer Bates testified before the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday, explaining to lawmakers what it’s like to work in the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, and why the “grueling” experience encouraged her and several colleagues to organize a union election.

Bates was invited to speak on the topic of income and wealth inequality by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). During 10-hour shifts, Bates said, workers are only able to take two 30-minute breaks, and due to the vast size of Amazon warehouses, that’s “not long enough to give you time to rest. Just walking the long way to the bathroom and back eats up precious break time.”

Every day at work feels like “an intense workout,” because employees have to “keep up with the pace,” Bates said. Amazon tracks “our every move,” she added, and “if your computer isn’t scanning, you get charged with being time-off-task. From the onset, I learned that if I worked too slow or had too much time-off-task, I could be disciplined or even fired.”

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More than 5,800 workers at the Bessemer warehouse are voting on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, with the election running through March 29. In an interview last month with CNN, Bates said she hoped if they voted to unionize, it would result in higher wages, adequate breaks, and improved ways to file and receive responses to grievances.

Bates told lawmakers that Amazon is pushing anti-union messaging during mandatory meetings and on flyers. It’s “frustrating,” she said, because “all we want is to make Amazon a better place to work. Yet Amazon is acting like they are under attack. Maybe if they spent less time — and money — trying to stop the union they would hear what we are saying.”

An Amazon spokeswoman told CNN in a statement they take Bates’ feedback “seriously,” but “don’t believe her comments represent the more than 90 percent of her fulfillment center colleagues who say they’d recommend Amazon as a great place to work to friends and family.”

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