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Amazon Confidential: Week 7, Ghost Walkers and the Rule of Three

It occurred to me the other night looking over at my fellow Amazon workampers that a transformation has come to pass. Ghosts of our former selves, we have turned into zombies, mouths slightly agape, just going through the motions. Even the Super Stowers have slowed down. Skin pasty, we walk the aisles of Amazon looking for bins to store our goods.

In the afternoon I rise about 1pm to the sound of slamming RV doors. My fellow walkers circle the RV encampment, arms outstretched, walking their dogs… or the dogs walking them. It’s quiet except for the occasional, “How’s it going” from some cheery fool fortunate enough to have had the previous day off. We grunt and walk away. No one wants to speak the truth. We’re exhausted. Ten to twelve hour work days will do that to a person.

As the number of Amazon workampers increases to well over 500, along with the number of new local employees being added to the temporary roster for the holidays, the number of human errors has also increased. This is leading to much frustration. And more accidents. I came around the corner the other night and almost ran into a picker lying in the aisle trying to find something in a bin. And she’s not the only one doing this. People with bad joints have given up the company prescribed “bend at the knees” and would rather sit on the floor to put stuff away, than attempt to repeatedly squat. The QC (quality control) counters commonly lay or sit on the floor; I don’t blame them. They have to count each bin to verify what’s in it and make sure one of us stowers didn’t make a miscount.

I’ve learned miscounts are easy to do. Like the other day I picked up a juice cart from receiving and there’s maybe 500 CD’s on it. I’m thinking piece of cake; I’ve got this. They’re small. I should be able to find a place for them easy.

Not so fast! Turns out they weren’t all the same type of CD. Though the covers looked identical, the bar codes were different. I had to stop, sort them all out and find different bins for each batch that was the same. The rule is you can’t put more than one type of item in the same bin; it makes things too hard for the pickers to recover them. That’s also where the rule of three comes in. You can’t put similar items in bins next to each other. You have to count down three, and put them in bin four – count down again and repeat. Confused yet?

MON. NIGHT: At our nightly meeting, before our mandatory stretching exercises usually led by one of the workampers, the managers inform us the number of accidents is on the increase. “You need to take your time and work smart folks,” one woman says. “We don’t want people getting hurt.”

Then another guy takes over and tells us our numbers are way off from the previous week. Those of us who have been here for a couple of months now call this the “Yo-Yo” effect. Like in, “Yo, you heard the man, speed it up. Nah, I heard the woman, slow it down.” The newer workampers just look confused. One woman looks like she might cry. Someone should remind her we’ll only be here another month or so. It’s just a job, not a career.

Later that night I’m given another juice cart with cell phone covers in little pink and black boxes. There has to be a thousand of them. I scan a couple of bar codes – They’re not all the same! And couldn’t someone tell Chinese manufacturers to put paper labels on their products instead of shiny plastic ones that only scan about ten percent of the time? Oh man, my numbers are going to be off tonight.

In all honesty, I don’t understand how the regular Amazon workers stay here. The tedium is relentless. They are now in mandatory 20 hr. a week OT. That’s 12 hr. days, five days a week. As workampers, we have mandatory fifty hour weeks, but we’re given the choice to sign up for sixty. Let me just say that in a previous life I didn’t work in a factory. I now have the utmost respect for those who do.

I can also say, if I never see another protective cell phone cover it won’t be too soon. I arrive home at 4AM and promptly set mine on fire. Did I mention frustration yet?