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The Deadly Intersection of Labor Exploitation and Climate Change

Sonali Kolhatkar

In San Bernardino, California, where retail giant Amazon has a massive warehouse and fulfillment center, daily temperatures reached triple digits for the majority of days in July and have been dangerously hot all summer. Workers with the Inland Empire Amazon Workers United (IEAWU) protested the dangerous conditions and complained to CAL-OSHA, the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. One worker, Daniel Rivera, told Fox11, “Amazon’s main focus is production. Safety is not the priority until it’s too late.”

What we are witnessing with such increasingly common instances is capitalism-induced climate change intersecting with capitalism-induced labor exploitation. It’s a deadly combination and one that is being discussed in ways that obscure its causes and solutions.

Take the corporate media, whose coverage has focused on the pro-business buzzword of “productivity.” CBS worried in an August 1, 2023 story, “How Hot Weather Affects Worker Productivity—and What That Means for the Economy.” The New York Times similarly lamented in a July 31, 2023 headline, that “Heat Is Costing the U.S. Economy Billions in Lost Productivity.” The cost to the economy (a euphemism for stock values and profit margins) is the bottom line—not the safety and health of human beings. Therefore, it matters a great deal that, as per the Times, “more than 2.5 billion hours of labor in the U.S. agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and service sectors were lost to heat exposure.”