Amazon Prime one-day delivery plans have this union worried

The union says Amazon must address the conditions for warehouse workers in its push for faster shipping.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
3 min read

Outside an Amazon warehouse in Massachusetts.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Many consumers may be cheering Amazon's plans to turn its Prime two-day shipping perk into one-day deliveries. But not everyone is thrilled by the news.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has long complained about the working conditions at Amazon warehouses, said Friday it's worried faster shipping could be harmful to warehouse workers.

"With two-day Prime shipping, Amazon fulfillment workers currently face speeds of 200-300 orders per hour in 12-hour shifts. They struggle already to maintain that pace," RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement.

Dave Clark, senior vice president of Amazon Worldwide Operations, said in a statement Friday that Appelbaum's comments were "misguided and self-serving." He added that Amazon's 20 years of developing its infrastructure has allowed it to ship faster "not by working harder but by working smarter."

The retail powerhouse has already faced considerable scrutiny for how it treats its workers, with several unions and activists saying that conditions at its warehouses can be grueling. With the one-day shipping change, the company may have to do more to address how the shift will affect its workers, not just its customers.

The RWDSU has been working to help Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, New York, form a union. It was also a vocal part of a local coalition that protested Amazon's push to bring a new 25,000-employee campus to New York City. That coalition raised concerns about Amazon's $3 billion incentives package for the project, as well as its alleged mistreatment of warehouse employees.

Watch this: How Amazon ships its biggest and bulkiest stuff

Amazon warehouse workers in the US aren't unionized, and Amazon has publicly stated it's against having unions, saying it prefers a direct line of communication with employees. The e-commerce giant has regularly defended itself against claims it mistreats workers, saying it offers comprehensive benefits that include disability insurance and paid leave.  It has said it offers employees "a climate controlled, safe workplace" and last year raised its minimum wage to $15.

The company said Thursday it will spend heavily this year, including $800 million in the current quarter, to start speeding up its Amazon Prime delivery infrastructure, with the goal of eventually shifting two-day deliveries to one day.

Here's the full statement from RWDSU's Appelbaum:

With two-day Prime shipping, Amazon fulfillment workers currently face speeds of 200-300 orders per hour in 12-hour shifts. They struggle already to maintain that pace.  If Amazon plans to effectively double the speed, it must also address existing workforce needs and ensure its workers are safe. Increasing fulfillment speeds means they need to hire more workers, under more sustainable speeds that don't put worker's lives in jeopardy.

Here is the full statement from Amazon's Clark:

Mr. Appelbaum continues to spout falsehoods and display his overall lack of knowledge as to how Amazon operates. We appreciate his concern for our associates but his concern is misguided and self-serving. Employees are the heart and soul of our operations, and we're proud of our team around the US who are paid at least $15 an hour with great benefits from day one.

"We've been building our network for over 20 years allowing us to create a world-class customer experience powered by incredible employees who work in a positive, safe environment in our facilities. We have strategically grown our network to include fulfillment centers, package sortation centers, delivery stations and air hubs all to be closer to our customers. This enables Amazon to deliver orders faster and more efficiently - not by working harder but by working smarter based on decades of process improvement and innovation. But don't take my word for it, come see for yourself what it's like to work in operations at Amazon through our public tours.

Originally published April 26 at 7:13 a.m. PT.
Update, 9:40 a.m.:
Adds Amazon's comments.