One of these days— maybe sooner, maybe later, but definitely one of these days—Amazon will become the new king of retail consumerism in America. We know what it's like working for Wal-Mart and Target. But what is life like for the faceless workers that make Amazon go?
Amazon currently employs less than 100,000 people, far fewer than Wal-Mart's 2.2 million globally. But it is not hard to tell that Amazon's model of one-stop online shopping is the future of American retail. Today, Amazon announced that it will be hiring more than 5,000 new employees for its "fulfillment centers"— the massive warehouses all over the country where your orders are filled and shipped out to your doorstep.
Amazon says these jobs average around $11 per hour, not a bad wage by retail standards. Yet they are actually not retail jobs at all; whereas customers may interact with a dozen Wal-Mart employees on a single trip to the store, Amazon workers remain unseen and behind the scenes. A purchase at Amazon leaves us only with a view of a website and, later, a cardboard box.
With Amazon's business model on the rise, it is important to seek out an inside view of life as an Amazon worker. These curious retail-warehouse hybrid jobs are becoming a staple of many middle American communities. For that reason, we would like to collect stories from Amazon workers, just as we have done with workers of Wal-Mart, Target, Whole Foods, and other important companies. If you are a current or former worker at an Amazon fulfillment center and you'd like to share your story, you can send it to Hamilton@Gawker.com. Anonymity is guaranteed.
We'll start off this effort with a few excerpts from an email that a worker at an Amazon fulfillment center in Tennessee sent out late last year, describing his job:
You don't actually get hired by Amazon. Almost everyone is employed by a staffing service. First though, you have to kill an hour and a half of your time filling out an application online and taking insane personality test. I'm not sure why they have such a lengthy test (I've filled out a lot of applications lately and they run anywhere from 15-45 min not 1.5 hours!) since A) this isn't even a monkey's job, its a job your dog could probably grasp and B) they seem to hire anyone who has a pulse.
Next you show up for your "interview" and possible on spot hire. Here you are herded around a series of stations, take some more test that prove that you are able to read or at least recognize the alphabet letters, sit and watch corporate video propaganda and wait on your "interview". Mine was with a very nice young lady who essentially asked if I was a U.S. citizen and asked if I could meet the physical requirements. There's none of that "what are your strengths" business. She essentially ran down all the requirements and questions that I already did online. I think the lady felt a little sorry for me since I was way overqualified and dressed up better than anyone else there so she tried to give me a challenging position although I don't feel this is possible in this line of work....
So now you are about 3 or 4 hours in and of course you don't get paid for any of that time it took to get hired. Training was really funny. They sent many of us to the wrong door of the warehouse (which ain't cool due to its size which I'll explain later), when you go into the right place you are herded once again. The whole process is standing in line, walking or sitting where they tell you and you are behind a big fenced off area. My initial thought was this is prison, the comparisons were obvious. I felt like asking anyone sitting by me or standing in line next to me "so, what are you in for?" It would have been a completely appropriate question.
We watched a hilarious sexual harassment video and than a dude from loss/prevention spoke to us. This was actually the bulk of our training - to have it pounded into everyone's skull not to steal. He claimed there was 500 visible cameras and over 500 more you could not see in the warehouse. They even had to install them in the break room because people's lunches were getting stolen. He yammered on and on about how you will never get away with stealing so please don't try. That they terminated 120 people in 6 months just for theft. And he told funny stories about people getting caught in various ways. Sadly, the number one stolen item is condoms. Sex toys are high up the chain too. After working there a couple days now though, I feel like all cops, he was untruthful and exaggerating. I wouldn't say its easy to steal, especially with having to walk through metal detectors every time you go to lunch or leave the building, but there are ways. And eating the food is definitely possible as I've seen wrappers and other evidence of food on the floor...
I have to touch on the size of this place too. [...] like bigger than 12 city blocks. Last night when I drove to work it took me about 15 min - when you arrive there is a line of cars to get in. Waiting in that line to get to a parking space took 15 min the same time as my commute! There's no way for me to fully describe the size of this place. There are over 7 miles of conveyor belts. The two ends of the warehouse is where product is stored. Think of a library with very small isles. Now imagine over 250 isles deep. Now imagine over 13 long isles across. Now imagine three floors of that. And finally imagine that double since there are two of these "libraries" - one on each side of the building.
Your break is 15 min twice a day and 30 min lunch. But if you are in the wrong place of the warehouse you could easily walk a half mile to a mile to get to break and that time supposedly counts. So sometimes you get to your break sit down for 5 min and start your fucking hike again...
The job is to scan a cubby, count the shit in the cubby, enter the number into your scanner and repeat this shit for 10 hours. If your count comes up wrong you have to empty the cubby and recount. You are supposed to count 125 cubbies an hour. My second day I did 285 and coulda broke 300 but my battery went out. Ever since than I slack the fuck off and stay around 150 or so. I still have time to look at any book or movie that looks interesting, get plenty of water breaks, stretch, etc. Its not a hard job just monotonous and boring as fuck. The crazy part is the number of people there who can't get 125 counted in an hour. That's like counting one box every 30 seconds. Most boxes have less than 10 items. This brings us to the workforce...
Probably the best thing about working here is the diversity of the workers. All over the fucking map. From a dude that looks like a college professor to people living in their car to grandmothers to mohawk punks and on and on. In one way, I think its cool these people can't meet their quota cause its like 'fuck you this is too much work' but on the other hand I worry for the physical and mental composition of some of these people as this isn't a political statement, they really can't do the job. At the beginning of your shift and after lunch we all do these lame stretching exercises which reminded me of the old 80s videos of Japanese factories where they worked out and shit before shifts and than proceeded to put in more work hours than any other industrialized country. At our stretching circle its a bunch of obese people pretending to stretch.
I have only worked one week now and already we have forced overtime for the unforeseeable future. I have no desire to work more hours but will lose the job if I don't. The only thing working more hours does is take away time from me finding a better job:) Seriously though, I realize I'm in a position of privilege to have better options out there. Some of my co-workers have looked at me like I'm crazy whenever I talk about how shitty this job is and how I am applying for other jobs all the time. Really? Not even a line to blow me off like "well, I just need the money". Its shocking the lack of disgust for their work environment or their lack of wanting to escape from the prison we're all working in.