Amazon warehouse workers in Wisconsin sent home from jobs after outage blamed on heat wave

Amazon warehouse workers in Wisconsin were sent home from their positions Wednesday when Amazon’s data center in Ring kept going dark, causing long lines at front gates.

The Missouri suburb where the facility is located had been hit by a heat wave, hitting 100 degrees as customers were leaving. The line stretched through the front gates into the surrounding neighborhood and investigators said there were cases of heat-related illnesses.

Amazon is using its unusual public relations crisis to rally the workers and highlight its commitment to its sprawling warehouses. In a Tweet from company spokesperson Alexandra Whitney, the retail giant called itself “one of the most proud companies in the world,” and talked up the lengths Amazon goes to clean its manufacturing facilities in its warehouses.

The company also sent a representative, Jenna Wandelt, to a local radio show to explain what had happened and say the service could not be restored quickly enough.

The problem stemmed from an outage in Amazon’s data center that affected only Amazon’s nationally distributed web services, and not its Prime Now delivery service. Wandelt said the company was working to resolve the problem and that it was “accommodating our customers by fully reopening the site.”

Amazon makes no money from its web services business, but it is a key component of Amazon’s business, giving Amazon a central place to host customers and more efficient ways to keep them connected. Amazon’s cloud business is huge, with more than $13 billion in sales in 2017.

There were several other notable problems on the internet Thursday, including a widespread outage at popular network recovery service Dyn in the morning that caused big outages in service to web-based services like Salesforce, Spotify and Twitter. Dyn said some of its services had been restored, but not all. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the company said it was investigating issues with its “publicly available network services,” including its Domain Name System that helps people find web addresses.

For Amazon employees in Wisconsin, the outage had consequences beyond anger and frustration.

Payday Loans in the Clouds

The workers who had to wait in line at the front gate said they were not paid for working the hours they were put on furlough, and some said that they would have to rely on payday loans.

According to this Barron-Star article, Amazon was paying everyone who stayed home on a second shift on Wednesday but not those who worked in the field.

Some of the Amazon employees who volunteered to work were dismayed that they could not finish their regular work to get paid, a convenience that can cost so much in the U.S.

“My Jeep came across the screen, and I didn’t even know I was done,” John Sembler said. He had worked for five days straight. “My boss said I don’t have to do anything today.”

Employees had just finished receiving paychecks in the mail and had to come in a second time to check off time they worked.

How much do hourly workers make in a typical year? What are the days off? How much do they get paid overtime? — Amanda Catalano (@AmandaATalino) July 11, 2018

Pay varies widely across the industry: an entry-level non-managerial Amazon warehouse worker earns just under $15 an hour; the lowest paid master warehouse worker earns around $22 an hour, the company has said.

Walmart, which is not a member of the AWS service provider’s consortium, also operates a data center. It said customers who had been hit by the outage would be able to access their data, but that it had no effect on that.

Several companies contacted by Bloomberg Businessweek said that they had not yet taken measures to secure their operations in the event of an outage at AWS.

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