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Amazon Confidential: Week 5, Who Needs Whom?

When the going gets tough, the tough get going – sometimes all the way out the door, Anonymous learns in week 5 of an assignment at an Amazon fulfillment center. As the holiday shopping season ramps up, managers urge workers to get their numbers up in a push to increase productivity in Part Five of Amazon Confidential: Confessions of a Warehouse Worker.

This past weekend has been a humbling experience. I should explain first that I’ve always been an active person. No couch potato here. I typically ride my bicycle five miles a day when the weather is good, and even up north I’ve been seen riding along country roadsides… protective clothing in place. In the winter I work out at the gym and lift weights. So I honestly thought I was prepared for a three month stint working on the Camperforce brigade for Amazon.

Yeah, right. Now that we’ve gone to five 10 hr work days I’ve discovered my legs aren’t in as good a shape as I thought. By day two of this week my ankles are swollen and painful. By day four I’m down to the drug store talking about support stockings. I’m becoming concerned that standing for long hours on concrete floors is doing damage to my venous system.

Working 10 hrs a week of overtime (OT) is mandatory for my Camperforce job; by Thanksgiving the managers are giving us the option of adding another 10 hrs a week to our schedules for a total of 60. Those last 10 are voluntary OT hours and I’m starting to think I might just stick with 50 hrs total a week. I still have a time to decide.

Mon. night:¬†Many of the newer workampers who have come on board in the past few weeks are already complaining about the “push” coming from the Amazon floor managers, particularly at night. “You need to bring your numbers up!” is the common thread.

They want us to be at a minimum of 85% production and personally I’m doing a lot better now that my scanner has been reprogrammed. At the weekly floor meeting last week I received an award for 100% production with NO errors. I was given a gold colored coin about the size of a quarter. Still have no idea what it’s good for.

One of my fellow stowers who consistently has production numbers around 200% became angry about the award, because he didn’t get one. But he made some mistakes. He said he believes his mistakes should have been overlooked since his production numbers are so high. I reminded him that it’s just a job, not a career. He didn’t talk to me the rest of the night.

There’s a curious thing about workampers in general; how many of them tell you they don’t actually need to work. You hear it from many more men than women. “I’m just doing this cuz I’m bored sitting at home,” one guy says during our half hour lunch break. “Yeah, me too,” agrees another, shoveling in some machine bought gruel. I open up my homemade chicken salad sandwich and he eyes me curiously. “How about you?”

“Nah, I need to work,” I reply, eating some grapes. “I’m not retirement age yet.”

“Too bad,” he says. “I come and go as I please. I’m just here because one of my neighbors in our RV park in Florida worked here last year. It sounded so crazy I decided to try it myself.” I think to myself, “Really! If I didn’t need the money, I can guarantee you I would not be abusing myself by working for Amazon.”

Later one of the floor managers warns a fellow stower next to me, “You need to get your numbers up.”

“Why would I bother to do that,” he mutters as the manager walked away. “They need me; I don’t need them.”

It’s a common refrain I’m hearing more often now as the weeks go by…and many people have quit already. But on Monday another 60 or so new workampers were arriving for training, so easy come, easy go. But I still wonder, who needs who?

Coming up in our next installment: The Pink Hand of Fate.