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Amazon Confidential: Confessions of a Warehouse Worker

What’s it like to be a temporary worker in a vast fulfillment center during the busy holiday shopping season? Buckle your seatbelts as we follow the life of a seasonal worker in an Amazon fulfillment center at an unnamed location. As one television show proclaimed, “the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

So the ad on Workamper read: Work in our distribution centers – Fernley, Nevada, Coffeyville, Kansas, or Campbellsville, Kentucky. We offer: paid campsite, $10 to $11.50 wage per hour, shift differential, completion bonus, overtime at time and a half, paid utilities in KY and KS (except propane), Amazon employee discount. Apply at: www.amazon.com/camperforce

Over the past 5 years I’ve crossed the country twice in my RV working for a variety of businesses from KOA campgrounds to picking beets and much more. While the couple depicted in the recent article in Forbes magazine is not necessarily indicative of my background (I’m younger and I need to work for pay; no swaps for site or volunteer work), the overall description of life on the road is very accurate.

I was in need of funds to get some work done on my rig, so I applied at Amazon and after almost 2 months of phone interviews, background tests and urine/drug tests, I found myself at Orientation. There were maybe 40 or so in my class on Monday and I have to say, all the middle management trainers and facilitators were great! Super friendly, Super upbeat. “Remember, it’s a job, not a career,” they kept reminding us.

As short-term workampers (3-4 months max), apparently we’re viewed a little different from the regular employees. “We need you,” I keep hearing, as I learned our expected productivity levels are lower than those of the regular employees. 85% instead of 100%+.

That’s ok with me, a sort of reverse discrimination. I guess they figure we’re too old to keep up with the regulars, LOL. Which is actually not surprising given the size of these distribution centers. Plan on walking 8 to 10 miles a day, I was told.

Still I see workampers ahead of me when we go on tour of the facility who are huge (and struggling to walk) – later we do a safety tour and have to “stow” products and “retrieve” them from fake bins using good posture; many of the people are unable to bend at the knee to crouch or even pick something up. How are they going to do this work? I wonder.

I guess I’ll find out next week, when I go on 8-hour shifts (this will shortly work up to 10 and then 12 hr. shifts), but for now, I’m still walking around trying to figure out how the “system” works in this vast multi-story phenomenon. I’ve been assigned to work in stowing, at least for now. That means basically I will take merchandise that has been processed in the receiving area (ie, off of incoming trucks, etc.) and placing that “stuff” in storage bins/shelves throughout the facility, keeping track of each part/item via electronic barcodes using what I call my “ray” gun.

The managers have reminded us multiple times we will be “moved around” this year, to avoid people thinking they “own” a department because they’ve worked there previous years. Many of the workampers I’ve met have been coming back here five and six years. That speaks volumes for Amazon as an employer, though as seasonal employees we’re not eligible for perks like health insurance.

In the coming weeks I’ll investigate this phenomenon, as well as the Amazon Weight Loss Plan. I plan on keeping a diary and condensing the info here. Wish me luck!

Coming up in our next installment: the Hardening Process.