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Reporter Takes Job At Online Retail Shipping Factory To See How Awful Working In One Is

By 02.28.12

A while back we told you about how Amazon’s shipping warehouses are hellish sweatshops where ambulances are stationed outside because the employees drop like flies so frequently. So have things gotten better in the wake of the public spotlight being turned onto the warehouses from which Amazon and other online retailers ship the books, vitamins and dildos you buy? No, not really.

Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland went to the trouble of actually getting hired by a company she coyly refers to as “Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc.” — a company that contracts with online retailers like Amazon to ship stuff for them. The hiring process, according to McClelland, involved a lot of denying any criminal history and watching a lot of harrowing videos. And then came the actual time to report for work.

I’m assigned a schedule of Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. When additional overtime is necessary, which it will be soon (Christmas!), I should expect to leave at 7 or 7:30 p.m. instead. Eight days after applying, i.e., after my drug test has cleared, I walk through a small, desolate town nearly an hour outside the city where I was hired. This is where the warehouse is, way out here, a long commute for many of my coworkers. I wander off the main road and into the chamber of commerce to kill some afternoon time—though not too much since my first day starts at 5 a.m.—but I end up getting useful job advice.

“Well, what if I do start crying?” I ask the woman who warns me to keep it together no matter how awfully I’m treated. “Are they really going to fire me for that?”

“Yes,” she says. “There’s 16 other people who want your job. Why would they keep a person who gets emotional, especially in this economy?”

Still, she advises, regardless of how much they push me, don’t work so hard that I injure myself. I’m young. I have a long life ahead of me. It’s not worth it to do permanent physical damage, she says, which, considering that I got hired at elevensomething dollars an hour, is a bit of an understatement.

As the sun gets lower in the curt November sky, I thank the woman for her help. When I start toward the door, she repeats her “No. 1 rule of survival” one more time.

“Leave your pride and your personal life at the door.” If there’s any way I’m going to last, she says, tomorrow I have to start pretending like I don’t have either.

What a way to earn to a few bucks! Can you imagine having to work at one of these places to actually survive. Holy f*ck just shoot me now. Oh, but it gets better, and by better I mean worse.

According to McClelland, the productivity requirements in the warehouses force workers to work at breakneck speeds, and if workers fail to meet their quotas or if they whine about injuries or, god forbid, miss work, they’ll be fired.

Inside Amalgamated, an employee’s first day is training day. Though we’re not paid to be here until 6, we have been informed that we need to arrive at 5. If we don’t show up in time to stand around while they sort out who we are and where they’ve put our ID badges, we could miss the beginning of training, which would mean termination. “I was up half the night because I was so afraid I was going to be late,” a woman in her 60s tells me. I was, too. A minute’s tardiness after the first week earns us 0.5 penalty points, an hour’s tardiness is worth 1 point, and an absence 1.5; 6 is the number that equals “release.” But during the first week even a minute’s tardiness gets us fired. When we get lined up so we can be counted a third or fourth time, the woman conducting the roll call recognizes the last name of a young trainee. “Does your dad work here? Or uncle?” she asks. “Grandpa,” he says, as another supervisor snaps at the same time, sounding not mean but very stressed out, “We gotta get goin’ here.”

The culture is intense, an Amalgamated higher-up acknowledges at the beginning of our training. He’s speaking to us from a video, one of several videos—about company policies, sexual harassment, etc.—that we watch while we try to keep our eyes open. We don’t want to be so intense, the higher-up says. But our customers demand it. We are surrounded by signs that state our productivity goals. Other signs proclaim that a good customer experience, to which our goal-meeting is essential, is the key to growth, and growth is the key to lower prices, which leads to a better customer experience. There is no room for inefficiencies. The gal conducting our training reminds us again that we cannot miss any days our first week. There are NO exceptions to this policy. She says to take Brian, for example, who’s here with us in training today. Brian already went through this training, but then during his first week his lady had a baby, so he missed a day and he had to be fired. Having to start the application process over could cost a brand-new dad like Brian a couple of weeks’ worth of work and pay. Okay? Everybody turn around and look at Brian. Welcome back, Brian. Don’t end up like Brian.

Go ahead and read the whole thing. And try not to cry — that’ll get you fired at Amalgamated.


TOPICS#AMAZON
TAGSamazon warehouses

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