Amazon says it will improve warehouse conditions

SEATTLE — Inc., addressing issues that have drawn heavy criticism of the company, told shareholders that it planned to improve warehouse conditions and drop its membership in a conservative public-policy organization.

More than 100 protesters rallied outside the company’s annual shareholders meeting Thursday at the Seattle Art Museum, calling on the Internet retailer to pay more taxes, treat its workers better and drop its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Amazon founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said the company would spend $52 million this year retrofitting its warehouses with air conditioning. Amazon has come under heavy criticism for conditions at its warehouses after a Pennsylvania newspaper reported that employees were forced to work in temperatures above 100 degrees last summer.

In response to a shareholder’s question, general counsel Michelle Wilson said Amazon had decided not to renew its membership in the nonprofit ALEC “because of positions they’ve taken not related to our business.”

Working Washington, a labor group that organized the rally, said it wanted the company to treat its warehouse workers with respect and end its support of ALEC, which has been in the spotlight recently for its support of “stand your ground” laws in various states, including Florida. The law is an issue in the controversy surrounding the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Seattle police officers forcibly removed a handful of protesters at the end of the meeting after they stood in the aisles and shouted.

Bezos, on a darkened stage, then thanked the audience for coming. He left without taking questions from the news media.

Martinez writes for the Seattle Times/McClatchy.