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Walk 11 miles a shift and pick up an order every 33 seconds: Revealed, how Amazon works staff ‘to the bone’

Adam Littler, 23, told of the ‘unbelievable’ pressure of working for the retailer

Amazon staff have previously claimed they are tracked around huge warehouses via GPS – but the firm denies this

Previous workers have told how even their toilet breaks were timed

Employment experts have given warnings over workers’ conditions


Internet giant Amazon works its warehouse staff ‘to the bone’ in long and relentless shifts, a former employee claimed yesterday.

Graduate Adam Littler, 23, said he walked up to 11 miles as he worked 10-and-a-half hour night shifts inside the online retailer’s giant distribution centre in Swansea.

He was expected to collect a customer order every 33 seconds and told BBC1’s Panorama he was subjected to ‘unbelievable’ pressure to meet efficiency targets.

Cardboard city: This Amazon distribution centre in Swansea covers 800,000 square feet. The complex is approaching its busiest time of the year

Cardboard city: This Amazon distribution centre in Swansea covers 800,000 square feet. The complex is approaching its busiest time of the year

Risks: Experts have warned that conditions inside the warehouses could increases rates of mental and physical illness among workers

Risks: Experts have warned that conditions inside the warehouses could increases rates of mental and physical illness among workers

Amazon staff have previously revealed how they have been tracked by GPS tags inside the company’s eight UK warehouses and even had toilet breaks timed – claims the firm has denied.

One employee at the warehouse – otherwise known as a ‘fulfilment centre’ – in Rugeley, Staffordshire, likened conditions to a ‘slave camp’.

The American company, which employed 15,000 in its UK warehouses in the run-up to last Christmas, is currently approaching its busiest period of the year.

Amazon has denied exploiting staff and said its productivity targets were set according to performance levels achieved by its work force.

But experts, including Professor Michael Marmot, of University College London, have questioned if conditions inside the firm’s giant warehouses could increase workers’ risk of mental or physical illness.

Targets: Adam Littler, a 23-year-old graduate, told BBC1's Panorama how he worked 10-and-a-half hour night shifts and was given an order every 33 seconds

Targets: Adam Littler, a 23-year-old graduate, told BBC1’s Panorama how he worked 10-and-a-half hour night shifts and was given an order every 33 seconds

Mr Littler wore a pedometer after he was given a job as a ‘picker’, pushing trolleys around and collecting customers’ orders from the shelves, at Amazon’s 800,000sq ft distribution centre in Swansea.

Pickers are given handheld scanners which calculate the most efficient route to collect items, and tell them if they are hitting their targets.

The documentary, due to be screened tonight, shows him racing to beat the scanner’s digital countdown to collect each item.

‘You all literally work to the bone and there doesn’t seem to be any reward or any let-up,’ he said.

‘I’ve never done a job like this before. The pressure’s unbelievable.’ Mr Littler was recruited via an agency for seven weeks’ work. He spent four weeks on the day shift, earning £6.50 an hour, before moving to night shifts on £8.25 an hour.

He claimed he worked four nights a week for 10-and-a-half hours, including a paid half-hour break and two 15-minute unpaid breaks.

Employment barrister Giles Bedloe said night shifts involving heavy physical work should be limited to eight hours in any 24-hour period.

Mr Littler’s scanner set him a target of collecting 110 items per hour, but he said he rarely hit the target. After working one night shift, he said: ‘I managed to walk or hobble nearly 11 miles. I’m absolutely shattered.’

Former workers have claimed the firm imposed a ‘three strikes and release’ discipline system to sack workers who did not meet targets.

Amazon has also come under pressure for its use of controversial ‘zero-hours’ contracts and for its tax avoidance practices.

Figures supplied to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee showed its UK sales were £7.1billion between 2009 to 2011. But its UK company, Ltd, paid only £2.3million in corporation tax as the majority of its sales were handled through its European subsidiary in low-tax Luxembourg.

'Unbelievable' pressure: Mr Littler was employed via an agency, and was paid £6.50 an hour to work during the day and £8.25 an hour to work at night

‘Unbelievable’ pressure: Mr Littler was employed via an agency, and was paid £6.50 an hour to work during the day and £8.25 an hour to work at night

'Fulfilment centre': Mr Little worked at this huge complex in Swansea, inside which staff are tracked by GPS devices

‘Fulfilment centre': Mr Little worked at this huge complex in Swansea, inside which staff are tracked by GPS devices

Although tax avoidance is legal, Amazon’s rivals have complained it has an unfair advantage as it can offer cheaper prices.

Amazon said an independent expert had advised them that its pickers experienced similar conditions to workers in other industries and did not face an increased risk of mental or physical illness, and that its safety and illness records were better than industry competitors.

Recruits are warned the job is physically demanding, it said, and all shift patterns meet legal requirements.

A spokesman said: ‘The safety of our associates is our number one priority and we adhere to all regulations and employment law. Independent legal and health and safety experts review our processes as a further method of ensuring compliance.’

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13 Secrets of Amazon Warehouse Employees

In 2014, Amazon sold two billion items worldwide. All those products, from phone cases to car seats, are stored inside Amazon’s fulfillment centers and then sorted and wrapped by warehouse workers. In the U.S. alone there are more than 50 of these gigantic buildings with 40,000 workers toiling away inside them, and that’s not counting the tens of thousands of part-time workers who join during busy seasons.

These are the people who make sure your package, no matter how big or small, gets to your doorstep. We spoke to a few of these employees about what it’s like to be part of the Amazon machine.

1. Not everyone has a horror story

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There have been dozens of stories portraying Amazon warehouses as inhumane, hellish workplaces, and while some workers may have been subject to these conditions, the ones I spoke to hadn’t. “It is certainly hard work,” said Brant Ivey, who spent six months in one of Amazon’s hubs lifting oversized objects. But “the conditions at the warehouse were on par or better than most other warehouses that I have been in.” One of the biggest complaints is that the warehouses are too hot. In 2012, after a lengthy expose revealed brutally hot summertime conditions, Amazon announced plans to spend $52 million to install air conditioning in its U.S. warehouses.

One Reddit user put it bluntly: “The work does suck, but all warehouse work sucks. I have experienced FAR worse conditions and been treated terrible by other Fortune 500 companies.”

2. They leave everything at the door

Amazon workers aren’t allowed to bring anything with them to the warehouse floor, including cell phones. They arrive empty-handed and leave empty-handed. “If you brought in your phone and you weren’t management, security would confiscate it and at end of night you had to go to security to pick it up,” says Charlee Mided, who worked in a warehouse in Phoenix, Arizona in 2013. “Then you’d get home late. So everyone knows not to do it.”

3. They hate the metal detectors

As an added layer of security, workers are subject to airport-style security checkpoints each time they leave the floor, including lunch break. According to Mided, when the lunch buzzer rings, there’s a mad rush to avoid the lines. “If you’re way over on one side of the warehouse and lunch is called, you have 30 minutes from that point to clock out, eat, and come back. You’re spending half your time waiting to be scanned out so you can be sure you’re not stealing anything. It leaves you with about 10 minutes for food.” The same lines form at the end of the day when workers pour out of the building. And workers don’t get paid to stand in line, thanks to a Supreme Court decision at the end of 2014 that ruled businesses like Amazon don’t have to pay employees for the time they spend waiting to be scanned.

4. They have strict quotas

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Workers who pull items from shelves to fulfill your orders are known as “pickers,” and they are monitored for their speed and accuracy. “My only job was to grab two large, yellow plastic bins, put them on my double decker shopping cart, and fill them with the items that my scanner told me to find,” a former picker said during a Reddit AMA.

“At my peak, I was picking 120+ items per hour, and it was just good enough.”

5. And they walk. A lot.

Amazon fulfillment centers are colossal. One warehouse in Baltimore covers one million square feetor roughly 23 acres. That’s a lot of land to cover on foot. One employee, who worked in Amazon warehouses for 14 years, told us he walked 13 miles a day when picking. “That’s over a 10 hour period, so its like 1.3 miles per hour, which isn’t bad,” he says. “But doing it for 10 hours straight, by the third or fourth day your legs are almost like jelly.”

6. The shelves are chaos

When items arrive at the warehouse, they’re scanned and placed in cubby holes on one of hundreds of rows of shelves. But there’s no rhyme or reason to where they’re stored, and even seasoned warehouse employees can’t make sense of it. “Each cubby hole is filled with an assortment of items,” according to a former worker.

“There might be a book, a toothbrush, a copy of a Barbie VHS tape from 1993, and a pair of moccasins. And you’ll only pick one of the items.” There’s a term for this: chaotic storage.

Amazon’s database knows where there’s empty shelf space and fills it as quickly as possible to maximize efficiency. Electronic scanners tell workers where to find the items they’re looking for. Video shows shelving chaos:

7. They have to do group exercises

“Every night, twice a night, when we showed up and when we came back from lunch we had to do calisthenics,” says Mided. “Jumping jacks, reacharounds, swinging our arms. It limbers you up and it really is helpful for the job, but it’s just… it kinda makes you feel like you’re five.”

8. And bubble wrap is their entertainment

Mided says occasionally the machine that distributed bubble wrap at her warehouse cut too much, but workers didn’t mind. “They’d be like, ‘Oh look! Bubble wrap!’ You’d see people just sitting around popping bubble wrap. Everyone wanted to be on bubble wrap detail.” Amazon workers: They’re just like us!

9. The warehouse cafeteria is a war zone

Workers have two lunch options: Bring your own, or buy a meal from one of dozens of vending machines stocked with mediocre microwavable meals like burgers and hot dogs. “You’d buy a hamburger and it didn’t taste like real beef,” one former worker told us. And good luck heating up your food. Mided’s warehouse cafeteria had about 20 microwaves, and the fight for zap time was fierce. “It was a war zone trying to get enough time to heat your food and then get out without being run over,” she says. “You would see people fight. The smartest thing to do was to pack something that doesn’t need microwaving, because that was killer.”

10. The warehouses have their own nurse’s office

“It’s very much like a school nurse’s office,” says Mided. “You sit down, they tell you to ice this or that. You tell them on a scale of one to 10 which face matches your pain. They really can’t treat you much. They can give you ice and aspirin, that’s about it.”

11. And fakers get put on broom duty

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“A lot of people would make up stuff just to get off the floor,” a former worker says. “Some people would just confuse being tired with being hurt. They’d say, ‘My legs hurt!’ No, you’ve just been walking around forever.” If the nurse can’t find anything wrong with you but you insist you’re unwell, the supervisors will find an easy job for you to do that doesn’t require any heavy lifting. More often than not, this means broom duty. “That’s only good for the first hour,” Mided says. “Twelve hours of pushing a broom is the most mind-numbing thing on the planet. But that still doesn’t prevent people from faking.”

12. “Problem solver” is a warehouse job

It’s their responsibility to fix other people’s mistakes. If a warehouse packer screws up on the assembly line, the Amazon machine knows it. Scales weigh each package, and if the weight is off, the box gets pulled and a “problem solver” is called over to inspect it. “If there is an error during any stage of the process, I find it, correct it, and provide the feedback to the person or cause of the error,” explains one problem solver in a recent Reddit AMA.

13. They see some crazy orders

If there’s one thing all Amazon warehouse workers will tell you, it’s that people order some weird things. “The amount of stand-up life-size Justin Biebers I saw was unnecessary,” Mided says. “And a lot more sex toys than you would think. Really odd ones. Even grown men or women warehouse workers are still kinda like a 12-year-old when they see that. Amazon really does sell everything.”


Sourced from mentalfloss



Christmas Working at Amazon: One Man’s Story

Christmas at Amazon: One Man's Story


What is it like to work at an Amazon warehouse during the annual holiday rush? One Amazon warehouse employee kindly narrated the “nonstop chaos” for us over the past month.

Even in normal times, the job of an Amazon warehouse employee is physically andpsychologically demanding. When the holiday shopping season arrives, the company staffs up with thousands of new, temporary “seasonal” workers. A few weeks ago, one of those seasonal Amazon warehouse workers began sharing his thoughts with us, day after day, They amount to a stream of consciousness narration of what life is like inside the beating heart of Christmas capitalism—the secret place where Santa’s real elves work around the clock to get all of us our presents.

This is one Amazon employee’s journey. This guy is great.

December 3: “Just ended day four… The next two weeks are mandatory 60 hour weeks! I’m just now trying to look into their definition of overtime. I have a feeling that hours 40-50 won’t actually be time and a half. The fact that they do hire just about anyone- myself included, I have a sad work history- suggests to me that ‘they,’ Integrity [the staffing company] and Amazon, have found a way to not give us time and a half. My ‘ambassadors’ certainly aren’t going to tell me, and I have a strong feeling that a few thousand people are going to be really pissed. I’ll say this: it’s fukkin fascinating. It’s all freaks and misfits, again, myself included.”

December 4: “Mandatory 60 hour weeks for the next two weeks. I forget, I think you have to work a minimum number of shifts before you can even THINK about asking for a day off. Even then, it might cost a point [a demerit]… They are conditioning us through incessant repetition that our 15 minute breaks are really only about ten minutes. They ‘fail’ to mention that the time you wait standing in line having to remove keys, belts, etc. is PART of your break. Lunch as well. Clicked out for lunch too of course. Waiting in line to go through a metal detector [ed.: this time is unpaid]. That said, some still drive to a nearby Mcdonalds and come back to eat.”

December 7: “I’ve been told it’s the second largest warehouse in the world!!! Sounds impressive, no? Sure, if were talking square blocks, or square miles, but one day, inevitably, it will become a lifeless, giant, empty waste of space.”

December 8: “I should correct myself. Second largest AMAZON warehouse in the world. Anything more is hard to fathom, though I must say, starting week two, it’s not so overwhelming. Like rats or ants or bees. Really! A chaotic cohesion. They’ve trained into to accepting that our ’15 minute break’ really isn’t. Yeah, sorry about the misunderstanding, but what we really mean is we’re going to forgive you for not bringing it in—the numbers—for 15 minutes. Not get to the break room (I’ll have to get back to that!) and have 15 minutes, THEN get back. 15 minutes total. There is so much, and I’m kinda tired today. Ask me about ‘time off task.’ So yeah, that goes back to being at the far end of the building. There’s five minutes of your 15 minute break. Which means you have five minutes, because you need the other five to get back. You get it.

“To be sure, there is no talk of mutiny or unionizing amongst us proles. Amazon represents the unskilled labor force in America. Elsewhere too I suppose. We are all going to be making a lot of money in a short amount of time, and I think that’s all that matters. Of course it’s not fair to speak for anyone else. Amazon might hire a few people after this ‘holiday season,’ maybe. Probably not. I do know that if I ‘complete my Amazon assignment,’ ISS (Integrity staffing services) will recognize me as… Damn! I forget. I’ll have to refer to my reading material. It’s amusing.

“I should be telling you about my almost 4,000 miles of bicycle touring I did this summer. But, I answered your call. A story is a million stories put together. Ask me about the speed bumps in the parking lot too!

“I hate that I’m leaving my dog for 12-14 hours a day. Amazon takes much more from you than a ten hour shift. Leaving the parking lot for example. And the poor way they herd traffic. Fukk! This could become a book if I could bother.

“The job itself is not mentally challenging. They have this shit down and there is little room for error. Everyone is being watched. Not just cameras, they can keep track of you, and come find you. Tracking device kinda thing.

“The scanners that are mandatory issue for us ‘pickers’ are unforgiving. They know where everything is, everything!

“Yeah, it can be hard work. Today they set the quota—22 picks in your first 15 minutes. Next week? Ever seen Hudsucker Proxy? There’s a scene where the main character gets his orientation. It’s pretty dead on funny, cuz it’s so dead on. Anyway, I don’t mind the running around. I can handle it. But, it’s go go go. You have to have stamina.

“Speaking of stamina, if I could magically fall asleep now, I’d have six hours before I start this whole thing again. Oh! It was said today that we will get out no later than 3-3:30 Xmas eve! I might volunteer for the day itself. Not a Christmas guy anyway.”

December 13: “In a twelve hour period, this happened. If I can forward the email, I will. I don’t think I can…I receive an email to remind me of the ‘mandatory’ overtime. I receive an email telling me they need proof of my high school diploma—because, they want to keep me on. Not Amazon, Integrity—and they need to know if I graduated or have GED. Which I call good enough diploma. Ha! Then, I get a garbled message that I understand as I did not pass the pre screen test and good luck etc…….call if you have any questions. As far as I can tell, they found marihuana in me. I let it be known that I want to talk to an Integrity representative. I get a call back shortly thereafter telling me to ignore the message sent in error and to show up tomorrow. It’s fukked. Of course there more. I’m sad that all this stress occurred on my day off. Sooooo, I’m off to get another 60 hours for six more days. I wasn’t ready to not work, so I’m glad. I’d like to go to HR and air my grievances, but I can only do that during one of my breaks, or lunch, or after work. I question why I’m doing this! Money, sure. Social studies, yes. And?”

December 21: “Sorry for a break in the updates, but the 60 hour weeks take their toll! That said, here’s what seems to be going on lately with everyone. I don’t talk with too many people, but this seems to be the shared story. Work, go home, eat, shower, sleep. Repeat.

“My knees creak and pop, my ankles too. Not normal! This must be why they have mandatory stretching. I see a few people that get into the routine, the ones I see stretching on their own time throughout the day, because there are benefits to be gained (and noticed!) from a regular routine. Not just speaking for myself . The kids don’t care, of course, because there’s much to talk about, such is youth!

“Gotta check to be certain, but it seems that everyone may- and I say should!- receive back pay. Hmm, one of the first stories I remember reading about Amazon involved a class action. This could be interesting. But I do have to wait before I can say for sure.

“It’s pizza for lunch tomorrow! Courtesy Amazon. It’s part of the incentive. It is cool that there is an actual DJ! He takes requests, and today someone commented/complained that the DJ is playing too much devil music. Funny!

“Today they have hourly announcements for someone getting a $10 gas prepaid card. Tomorrow a lucky someone could a $100 gift card. For Amazon maybe?”

December 24: “For two weeks it’s been nonstop chaos! Mandatory overtime, everyone doing their best to not run into each other. ‘Excuse me, sorry, thanks.’ Today was a special half day, everyone left at noon. By the way, Friday-day after Xmas- is mandatory overtime. Why? They expect a huge number of people to be using their gift cards to order stuff. You know, anything from vegan marshmallows to glow in the dark strap-ons. To be fair, they never said we would not be working Friday. I won’t be surprised if many don’t show up. After all, it’s a temp job, and if I may speak for many, everyone’s burned out. And maybe want to spend time with family. And everyone that’s worked there deserves a long weekend.

“Yesterday and today was weird. Almost post zombie apocalyptic. Abandoned carts left in the aisles, just a few (hundred) of us pickers. I can’t explain why we stayed on and others didn’t. End of their assignment. Burn out? Too many points? Does it mean I might have a chance at full time employment? Points equal termination.”

December 29: “No overtime this this week! Just forty hours. So, there was so much chaos and people for two weeks. A constant wave of bodies at all times. Different break times for different groups. It was the only way. It was bad enough! Many people would go to their cars, myself included. There’s so much more to tell. But! Two days before Christmas, many got to go home at lunch. It was weirdly quiet. The next day, on the eve, just as quiet. But then yesterday and today, well let’s say no one is back. Phasing phase. Here’s why:

“Today at stand up, the pep rally of sorts, where we learn about numbers and safety reminders, and ‘go take care of the customers!’ Today was not the usual feel good stand up. It was cold hard facts. We started with 2,000 temps for the season, and as of Xmas eve, it’s down to 400. Pretty obvious. And to think I may never see this beautiful red haired woman again!

“So, numbers. This man hints at saying that some people may have a chance at becoming an Amazon hire. He doesn’t really even say that. It’s well worded. But ultimately if we want to become a ‘success story,’ we have to really get out there and ‘give it our all!’ It’s like I’m in some elimination reality show all of sudden. To be certain though, there will be even fewer people next week, and, if I understood correctly, next week will be the last week. And that’s good to know. I asked about it last week, Integrity just said that Amazon tells them when to call people. I’m guessing that Amazon used their points system…Anyway, maybe they kept people with less, or no points, like me!

“I think those of us who currently remain, we’ll stay on until the end. A damn hard earned $2,000!”

And that’s where Christmas comes from.

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