Amazon is the future of retailing in America. Earlier this week, we asked the unseen Amazon employees who fill your orders to send us their stories. Here are five of their tales of life at Amazon.
Since Amazon needs no public-facing stores, most of the real work takes place in its massive "fulfillment centers"— huge warehouses strategically located around the country, where orders are filled and shipped. One worker compared their sheer featureless vastness and the rote mindlessness of the work to life in jail. Last year, Mac McClelland wrote an illuminating piece on Amazon warehouse work for Mother Jones. (Strangely, both these stories prominently featured dildo-packing.)
Online retailing is the future. Unlike traditional big box stores, the employees who make online retailing run will be mostly out of sight and out of mind. It is, therefore, that much more important to hear their stories. Amazon workers don't seem to share the fierce collective sense of despair that Wal-Mart workers do. This is an opportunity to hear what they have to say.
In the freezer
I was reading your post today, and just about everything, word for word (Almost) was identical. But I'd like to add a few things. When you're in shipping and they double, or triple their workforce over the winter holidays, you're working at times in below zero temps INSIDE the warehouse. when you have like 40 bay doors open for trucks to pull in it gets very cold. Not only that, but for the people they where going to "Keep" of the temps they hire over the holidays, they throw into new jobs with zero training almost. For me, where I started (Sortation) we worked there for almost three months. [Two] of us from our group they opted to keep, they moved us over to stowing (Putting items on the shelves after we received them) they have us about 45 minutes worth of training for the jobs, and after the first day, and not really knowing or being properly trained on how to do our job, the management where threatening to write all the people up that got moved. After that day I never went back. You can't expect someone to do a job that they generally give you a three week "Training period" and expect them to learn in in 45 minutes. Also, when I was there there where not metal detectors in the lunchroom but everyone got a pat-down before they left.
A job, not a career
I loved my time with amazon. I worked in the Fernley NV warehouse for 90 days at Christmas. It is the hardest job I ever loved. I lost weight, got into better shape than I have been in years and met some people out of my comfort zone. Ever wonder where people with mohawks, full body tattoos and piercings work? I know! Yes, the orientation is mind numbingly boring and safety school is a giggle, but guess what???????? Amazon has to do this to cover their asses because of sue happy whiners, who want an excuse to hire an attorney and get free money. Its a job, not a career. I was an item picker. I would walk 5-15 miles a day. I pulled some freaky things off the shelves to fill peoples orders. I learned a whole lot. People have standing orders for diapers and pet food. Food, candy, make-up, toys and not to mention books, music and calendars!
I also did inventory and gift wrap at Christmas. Yes, there is mandatory overtime. Waaaaa, more money!The "lame" stretching exercises someone wrote about? I liked them, they are good for you. If you aren't happy, go somewhere else. Negative attitudes are not welcome.
Theft? Yes, there are stupid people who thought they could get away with stuff. They were removed from the facility, terminated and filed on. Like anything else in your life, its what you make of it. I chose to make it a positive experience and because of it, I have been hired again for the Christmas season in KS. And next year, unless I hit the lottery, I will apply for a job at the KY facility.
I am part of a group called Camperforce. Full time RV'rs looking to add to their travel income. Most of us are 50+. Short term contracts so we can continue on our journeys! Bottom line, I loved my job at Amazon. I was exhausted and happy. I recommend it. If you managed a high school diploma or GED, can pass a back ground check and a drug test, you can get a job. A JOB not a career!
I have 3 major complaints. They lie to you when you get in the door. They set unrealistic goals. And breaks are very short.
I work at the Chester, Virginia warehouse. They paint this picture of it being a fun place. That you get to play games during breaks and have so much fun. The only games they play with you is mind games. That brings me to my 2nd complaint, unrealistic goals. They expect an incredible pace. I was in good shape when I got there, but I was NOT prepared for the miles of walking on concrete every day. My feet hurt so bad, I would have trouble going to sleep, I was in so much pain. My feet have toughened up, but the pay has not.
Another part of unrealistic goals is they have this bonus pay deal, where if the warehouse has no errors, you get a bonus in your paycheck. Of course that never happens and you NEVER see how the other warehouses do. They SAY other warehouses have better numbers, but they do not show you how the warehouses elsewhere calculate it. You just have to take their word for it, that the Chester Virginia warehouse is a bunch of asshole losers.
Breaks, I can only speak as a picker. They say you get two 15 minute breaks and a half hour break, but you are not allowed to leave the floor early. So with 5 minute walk time......... In a ten hour day, you get to sit down for 2 FIVE minute breaks and one 20 minute break.
Temping in "outbound"
I worked for Amazon for a few months as a temp hire around Christmastime 2012. It was at one of several warehouses they have in the Phoenix area. I worked the overnight shift, which started at 7 PM and ended at 7 AM or whenever they ran out of work and started sending people home.
I was hired through a temp agency. I had my interview with a mouth swab drug test stuck in my mouth. While I was waiting, they were playing a video that said, "Do you go to school? That's great! Just tell us your schedule and we can work around it." Then when I was interviewed I brought up my impending school schedule and the lady scoffed, "We don't work around school schedules." Jeez, fine. I understand if it's that type of job but it sucks that they are disingenuous about it.
It was really hard to be on my feet for that amount of time, but other than that, it wasn't really any different from when I worked at Target as a teenager. They get everyone together to do these stupid stretching exercises at the beginning of shift and again at lunch, and the boss guy yells at everyone about being sure to get back from your break and lunch in time, and reminds everyone about mistakes they need to make sure not to make.
I worked at the warehouse that had mostly big stuff at it, not books and CDS, but housewares, tools, toys, and other larger items. I worked in "outbound," which was what they called the department that handles all the packing and shipping. For some reason I was tapped to work on the oversize box line, which was for things that didn't fit into any of our standard boxes. We saw a lot of tree trimming tools, shovels, ladders and, fishing poles. I operated the custom box machine. So when someone would order something huge or weirdly shaped, it would come down a special line where it was scanned with lasers, the size info was sent to my machine, which spit out a custom-sized piece of cardboard. My job was to tear off the excess cardboard, throw it away, fold the box over, glue the flap down, slap a barcode on it, and put it on the drying rack for the packers. I did this probably 1000 times a night.
Oddly, if someone ordered multiple things from our warehouse and only one of them was very large, EVERYTHING in their order got its own custom box, even if it could fit into a normal box. So if someone ordered a board game, a pack of toilet paper, and a ladder, for instance, they would get three separate boxes delivered with one item each.
Lunch was 30 minutes, and you got two fifteen-minute breaks. And that was 15 mins from the time you left your work area. It could take you 5-10 minutes to get to the break area. We weren't allowed to bring in cell phones, and we had to go through metal detectors on the way in and out, even to the break room.
A complete rundown
Today sir, I tell you a tale of someone who worked at Amazon not only once, but twice. I won't accuse them of doing terrible things or try to ruin their reputation..(purposely). I am here to give you information and my personal experiences to better help people decide if they want to work there. I started off by doing the application online along with some personality test. All in all, it took about an hour and some change. A pretty long time but I didn't mind. At the time, I was unemployed and in danger of losing my home. Not to mention my wife's income was barely above minimum wage. So after I finished the application I waited. To make a very long story short, 3 weeks later I was told by whoever was at the other end of the phone that they were sorry but the applications were all lost and to reapply at a company called SMX Staffing. After finding the place I applied and went in for the interview. one week later I started my first day. I originally thought that I would be working directly for Amazon but they made sure to tell me multiple times I wasn't an actual "Amazon employee." After showing us around we were directed towards a room where we watched videos for about 2 hours. We were then talked to by a guy about sexual harassment( Funny thing was, I heard he was later fired for sexual harassment.).After the talking and the videos were over they separated everyone into different groups and jobs. The only jobs I did I will list below.
Picker- This was my main job. I started as a picker and I left as a picker. Pickers pick things but they have to do it fast to "make rate". We go around with a little cart to a conveyor belt and grab 2 plastic tubs. With a scanner in one hand and pushing the cart in the other your job is to go around to wherever the scanner tells you and "pick the items" This involves scanning the tub, then the location bar code, searching for the right item (which most of the time is easy to find but sometimes hard) and scanning it. Then doing the same thing for the next 10hours of your day minus the 2 15minute breaks and the 30min lunch break. In my opinion pickers are the most important people at the warehouse...yet they're the lowest on the totem pole. They physically work harder and in worse conditions than any other position. I bought a step calculator that hooks on your pants. Every day as a picker I walked 5 miles MINIMUM. One day I shit you not I walked 12 miles.
Packer- Probably the next worst job at the warehouse. You stand in one spot all day minus the breaks and the lunch break. You put what the pickers "pick" and put it in a box. sounds simple enough right? Heh. the problem with packing is that if other people fuck up (the pickers or the people who are supposed to restock your cardboard boxes) you get way behind and get bitched at. Even the equipment fucked up nonstop. The tape machines jammed and the button that gives you tape for an A3 box would give me one for B2. If you choose this position you will find yourself making up games to keep you from going insane. Like how fast can I pack this box or lets see how many times I can beat the person next to me.
Runner- This was my favorite job. To get this position they want someone who is fast. Basically when pickers don't pick the right item or forget to pick it runners are sent later to grab the item so it can be packed and shipped with everything else on time. You go to a magical place they call "Problem Solving" you stand beside the people on the computers and when they hand you an item a picker missed you are to walk/jog as fast as you can to get the item (they don't like you to actually run) Then when you are done you wait beside the computer until they send you to run again which could be from 5min to 15min later. You can relax and talk to other workers because your not isolated to one spot like the packers or running around trying to make rate like the pickers.
Problem solve- Those fuckers. They do have a deadline for things, but once the work is completed they get to relax until the next deadline comes up. They all sit in nice comfy chairs and get special treatment by the managers, anyone who says otherwise is full of shit.
The WORST things about working there* Rate- As a picker I worked my ass off basically running every day to make rate. For a whole month My scanner sent me to k area which was on one side of the building all the way to the other side B area. It killed my rate since to go back and forth took 10 minutes for 1 item. Meanwhile A fucking 18 year old kid was sent to one area to pick 100 steve job books. They told me that they adjust the rate to make it fair for everyone but when they posted the rates during stretch time that asshole was at the top.
I will wrap it up by defending Amazon a little, and then insulting them a lot. The one I worked at was in Columbia SC. I had just been built about 8 months before I started working there so it maybe wasn't completely set up I don't know all the details. What I do know is that the SC senate gave Amazon a tax break, one of the main reasons being that it would bring jobs to the area. What did Amazon do once the Christmas rush was over? a MASSIVE LAYOFF without any warning. Sad thing is, the next time I went to work for them, I was finished being interviewed for a permanent position. They told me that everything went great and I'd hear back from them the next week. Well the next week came, people started getting laid off. I saw them hire people permanently who had never been to Amazon before, who had no fucking experience of the job. For those of you who are slow to follow, AMAZON PERMANENTLY HIRED PEOPLE WHO DRESSED LIKE FUCKING BUMS AND WHO HAD NO EXPERIENCE OVER US WORKERS WHO HAD BEEN WORKING THERE FOR 5 OR MORE MONTHS.
Amazon saved me when I was in danger of losing my home and I'm grateful, but I fucking hate them more than any company.
[If you are an Amazon worker who would like to share your story, email Hamilton@Gawker.com. Image by Jim Cooke. Photo via Getty.]