This Black Friday, you are going to spend over $9 billion. Almost half of it will be at Amazon. This, despite all the bad press that Amazon has garnered over the past few months. This has not been a good year for Amazon with regard to image. There have been a number of reports about how the company does not value its workers and treats them poorly.
Amazon has attempted to do some things to change the narrative by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Still, that was not enough to stop the negative stories like the one from a former Amazon fulfillment center worker who spoke to the Verge about what it is really like at Amazon during the busy season.
“Yes, it’s a pretty typical thing for Amazon. It’s easy for Amazon to hire us because they know vets are willing to shut up and cooperate. In my opinion, Amazon is preying on the work-life balance issue that the military has, and feeds off the rigid order the Army teaches. The military is known for being a bastion of sexism, but I had a worse experience at Amazon. It’s way more cutthroat.”
The former worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, went on to describe breaks.
“The associates have mandated breaks where they have to clock in and out by certain times, but the managers do not get any sort of break or lunch.”
He said that most of them never ate. Everyone was on their feet for 12 hours a day. Breaks were regimented. There was a 30 for lunch, two 15s, and an additional 15-minute “time off for tasks.” These are tracked by the system with no wiggle room. The first time you are off the clock for more than 30 minutes, it is a warning. Take an hour and you are immediately fired. There are no emergency situations or human judgments in the process.
All those smiling Amazon boxes have to be packed by humans working a lot of hours on their feet. On Black Friday, the former manager describes watching the orders go from 10,000 to 300,000 and having a hopeless feeling. The backlog gets even worse for Cyber Monday.
Hours during Black Friday include mandatory overtime. It was 10 hours for associates and up to 18 hours for managers. Morale inside the fulfillment center always started out pretty high as workers were indoctrinated with the idea that they are saving Christmas for millions of people. But by the end of the season, there was just weariness and despair. No one wanted to be there.
One observation was that Amazon likes to make workers constantly feel like their jobs are on the line. That is because they are. Fall a little behind on your packing quota, and you could be fired. It is not merely the physical work, but the pressure.
While the anonymous former worker admitted that he would continue ordering goods on Black Friday, he boycotted Prime day. The simple fact is to make Christmas happen as expected, someone has to make the toys and handle the logistics. There are no magical elves. So as Christmas is delivered to you and yours this holiday season, remember the human cost of inexpensive and timely holiday cheer.