What is it like to work at an Amazon warehouse during the annual holiday rush? One Amazon warehouse employee kindly narrated the "nonstop chaos" for us over the past month.
Even in normal times, the job of an Amazon warehouse employee is physically and psychologically demanding. When the holiday shopping season arrives, the company staffs up with thousands of new, temporary "seasonal" workers. A few weeks ago, one of those seasonal Amazon warehouse workers began sharing his thoughts with us, day after day, They amount to a stream of consciousness narration of what life is like inside the beating heart of Christmas capitalism—the secret place where Santa's real elves work around the clock to get all of us our presents.
This is one Amazon employee's journey. This guy is great.
December 3: "Just ended day four... The next two weeks are mandatory 60 hour weeks! I'm just now trying to look into their definition of overtime. I have a feeling that hours 40-50 won't actually be time and a half. The fact that they do hire just about anyone- myself included, I have a sad work history- suggests to me that 'they,' Integrity [the staffing company] and Amazon, have found a way to not give us time and a half. My 'ambassadors' certainly aren't going to tell me, and I have a strong feeling that a few thousand people are going to be really pissed. I'll say this: it's fukkin fascinating. It's all freaks and misfits, again, myself included."
December 4: "Mandatory 60 hour weeks for the next two weeks. I forget, I think you have to work a minimum number of shifts before you can even THINK about asking for a day off. Even then, it might cost a point [a demerit]... They are conditioning us through incessant repetition that our 15 minute breaks are really only about ten minutes. They 'fail' to mention that the time you wait standing in line having to remove keys, belts, etc. is PART of your break. Lunch as well. Clicked out for lunch too of course. Waiting in line to go through a metal detector [ed.: this time is unpaid]. That said, some still drive to a nearby Mcdonalds and come back to eat."
December 7: "I've been told it's the second largest warehouse in the world!!! Sounds impressive, no? Sure, if were talking square blocks, or square miles, but one day, inevitably, it will become a lifeless, giant, empty waste of space."
December 8: "I should correct myself. Second largest AMAZON warehouse in the world. Anything more is hard to fathom, though I must say, starting week two, it's not so overwhelming. Like rats or ants or bees. Really! A chaotic cohesion. They've trained into to accepting that our '15 minute break' really isn't. Yeah, sorry about the misunderstanding, but what we really mean is we're going to forgive you for not bringing it in—the numbers—for 15 minutes. Not get to the break room (I'll have to get back to that!) and have 15 minutes, THEN get back. 15 minutes total. There is so much, and I'm kinda tired today. Ask me about 'time off task.' So yeah, that goes back to being at the far end of the building. There's five minutes of your 15 minute break. Which means you have five minutes, because you need the other five to get back. You get it.
"To be sure, there is no talk of mutiny or unionizing amongst us proles. Amazon represents the unskilled labor force in America. Elsewhere too I suppose. We are all going to be making a lot of money in a short amount of time, and I think that's all that matters. Of course it's not fair to speak for anyone else. Amazon might hire a few people after this 'holiday season,' maybe. Probably not. I do know that if I 'complete my Amazon assignment,' ISS (Integrity staffing services) will recognize me as... Damn! I forget. I'll have to refer to my reading material. It's amusing.
"I should be telling you about my almost 4,000 miles of bicycle touring I did this summer. But, I answered your call. A story is a million stories put together. Ask me about the speed bumps in the parking lot too!
"I hate that I'm leaving my dog for 12-14 hours a day. Amazon takes much more from you than a ten hour shift. Leaving the parking lot for example. And the poor way they herd traffic. Fukk! This could become a book if I could bother.
"The job itself is not mentally challenging. They have this shit down and there is little room for error. Everyone is being watched. Not just cameras, they can keep track of you, and come find you. Tracking device kinda thing.
"The scanners that are mandatory issue for us 'pickers' are unforgiving. They know where everything is, everything!
"Yeah, it can be hard work. Today they set the quota—22 picks in your first 15 minutes. Next week? Ever seen Hudsucker Proxy? There's a scene where the main character gets his orientation. It's pretty dead on funny, cuz it's so dead on. Anyway, I don't mind the running around. I can handle it. But, it's go go go. You have to have stamina.
"Speaking of stamina, if I could magically fall asleep now, I'd have six hours before I start this whole thing again. Oh! It was said today that we will get out no later than 3-3:30 Xmas eve! I might volunteer for the day itself. Not a Christmas guy anyway."
December 13: "In a twelve hour period, this happened. If I can forward the email, I will. I don't think I can...I receive an email to remind me of the 'mandatory' overtime. I receive an email telling me they need proof of my high school diploma—because, they want to keep me on. Not Amazon, Integrity—and they need to know if I graduated or have GED. Which I call good enough diploma. Ha! Then, I get a garbled message that I understand as I did not pass the pre screen test and good luck etc.......call if you have any questions. As far as I can tell, they found marihuana in me. I let it be known that I want to talk to an Integrity representative. I get a call back shortly thereafter telling me to ignore the message sent in error and to show up tomorrow. It's fukked. Of course there more. I'm sad that all this stress occurred on my day off. Sooooo, I'm off to get another 60 hours for six more days. I wasn't ready to not work, so I'm glad. I'd like to go to HR and air my grievances, but I can only do that during one of my breaks, or lunch, or after work. I question why I'm doing this! Money, sure. Social studies, yes. And?"
December 21: "Sorry for a break in the updates, but the 60 hour weeks take their toll! That said, here's what seems to be going on lately with everyone. I don't talk with too many people, but this seems to be the shared story. Work, go home, eat, shower, sleep. Repeat.
"My knees creak and pop, my ankles too. Not normal! This must be why they have mandatory stretching. I see a few people that get into the routine, the ones I see stretching on their own time throughout the day, because there are benefits to be gained (and noticed!) from a regular routine. Not just speaking for myself . The kids don't care, of course, because there's much to talk about, such is youth!
"Gotta check to be certain, but it seems that everyone may- and I say should!- receive back pay. Hmm, one of the first stories I remember reading about Amazon involved a class action. This could be interesting. But I do have to wait before I can say for sure.
"It's pizza for lunch tomorrow! Courtesy Amazon. It's part of the incentive. It is cool that there is an actual DJ! He takes requests, and today someone commented/complained that the DJ is playing too much devil music. Funny!
"Today they have hourly announcements for someone getting a $10 gas prepaid card. Tomorrow a lucky someone could a $100 gift card. For Amazon maybe?"
December 24: "For two weeks it's been nonstop chaos! Mandatory overtime, everyone doing their best to not run into each other. 'Excuse me, sorry, thanks.' Today was a special half day, everyone left at noon. By the way, Friday-day after Xmas- is mandatory overtime. Why? They expect a huge number of people to be using their gift cards to order stuff. You know, anything from vegan marshmallows to glow in the dark strap-ons. To be fair, they never said we would not be working Friday. I won't be surprised if many don't show up. After all, it's a temp job, and if I may speak for many, everyone's burned out. And maybe want to spend time with family. And everyone that's worked there deserves a long weekend.
"Yesterday and today was weird. Almost post zombie apocalyptic. Abandoned carts left in the aisles, just a few (hundred) of us pickers. I can't explain why we stayed on and others didn't. End of their assignment. Burn out? Too many points? Does it mean I might have a chance at full time employment? Points equal termination."
December 29: "No overtime this this week! Just forty hours. So, there was so much chaos and people for two weeks. A constant wave of bodies at all times. Different break times for different groups. It was the only way. It was bad enough! Many people would go to their cars, myself included. There's so much more to tell. But! Two days before Christmas, many got to go home at lunch. It was weirdly quiet. The next day, on the eve, just as quiet. But then yesterday and today, well let's say no one is back. Phasing phase. Here's why:
"Today at stand up, the pep rally of sorts, where we learn about numbers and safety reminders, and 'go take care of the customers!' Today was not the usual feel good stand up. It was cold hard facts. We started with 2,000 temps for the season, and as of Xmas eve, it's down to 400. Pretty obvious. And to think I may never see this beautiful red haired woman again!
"So, numbers. This man hints at saying that some people may have a chance at becoming an Amazon hire. He doesn't really even say that. It's well worded. But ultimately if we want to become a 'success story,' we have to really get out there and 'give it our all!' It's like I'm in some elimination reality show all of sudden. To be certain though, there will be even fewer people next week, and, if I understood correctly, next week will be the last week. And that's good to know. I asked about it last week, Integrity just said that Amazon tells them when to call people. I'm guessing that Amazon used their points system...Anyway, maybe they kept people with less, or no points, like me!
"I think those of us who currently remain, we'll stay on until the end. A damn hard earned $2,000!"
And that's where Christmas comes from.
[Photo: Getty. Amazon employees who would like to share can email me.]