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What is this Twitter army of Amazon drones cheerfully defending warehouse work? (techcrunch.com)
432 points by pinewurst 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 183 comments



Let's say you're a company with a serious PR problem about the working conditions in your warehouses.

You set up 15 Twitter accounts claiming to be employees of your warehouses. You make sure the accounts are laughably bad at concealing the fact that they are shills, with cookie-cutter bios and responses that are obviously canned talking points. This ensures that the accounts are discovered and written up by various publications, and the articles widely shared.

The articles, while laughing at how transparently phony the accounts are, inevitably mention that you are now offering tours of your warehouses (which makes you sound trustworthy since you're not hiding anything), and embed the Tweets that say you pay more than other companies in your industry and offer medical benefits. (Since this information is falsifiable (capable of being proven false, but not necessarily false) it's credible even though it's coming from a shill account.)

You've probably not made anyone's opinion of you worse (you look more stupid than malevolent), but you've gotten your message in front of eyeballs and it might make some people think better of you.


It's amazing how well this works despite being obvious propaganda. I felt my own opinion on Amazon Fullfilment Centers change as I read the article.

One thing that makes propaganda like this so effective is that journalists generally do not bother to verify any propaganda claims (eg. does Amazon really pay 30% more?), so even if they write articles making fun of you they still repeat your message.


Can you explain a little about what you felt changing in your opinion here?

What I got out of it was that Amazon had previously been dehumanizing their workers to the point that the PR drones have to now overtly brag about complying with OSHA laws.


The questions it prompts are pretty straight forward.

Does Amazon actually pay ~30% better now than their competitors (or anything close to that)? Do they offer dental, vision and healthcare coverage for all employees?

If those things are true, then I think better of Amazon because of it. I would have guessed none of those things were true otherwise. The media and essentially all comments online proclaim that Amazon employees are being tortured horrifically on a daily basis and paid absolute bottom tier wages across the board. Those articles and opinions have, to one degree or another, tilted my opinion of Amazon in a negative manner.

Can anyone here speak to if those positive things are true and or mostly true? I have no idea. I'd think better of Amazon if they were.


I'm not exactly sure how much better Amazon pays, if at all better, here in SoCal starting pay is around $12-$14 per hour for L1 associates, but anecdotally I feel like this is on the higher end when compared to similar jobs, at least compared to the jobs I've held. I can't speak to the insurance coverage provided since I'm a part time worker but from what I've heard, while pay isn't great, the insurance seems to be pretty good once you're eligible.

I will say that from what I've seen my station managers take safety very seriously. Some of this must extend up the corporate ladder because I had a friend who was injured on the job here and Amazon did a very good job of making sure he got the care he required. He actually wanted to come back to work much earlier than Amazon would allow, he missed his coworkers, but they wanted to make sure he was completely healed and made it clear that he shouldn't rush things. He was being paid worker's comp during this time. This certainly made a good impression on me.

I also really appreciated how straight forward the hiring process was. I was unemployed and homeless, I actually lived on an empty lot behind our warehouse for a while, when I was hired and out of all the jobs I applied to Amazon had the most streamlined hiring process. This might not seem like a huge deal but when you're already struggling it was nice to not have too many hoops to jump through to try and land a job.

Obviously due to my background I'm probably viewing my work overly positively, it feels pretty great to finally have a little bit of savings, I've saved up around $1500 over the past year and this is the most money I've had in my entire life, but overall I've enjoyed my time at Amazon. But again, from the reporting I've seen there are still some pretty glaring systemic problems within the company.

Edit: I saw a poster comment under this post asserting that I was being paid to post here in defense of Amazon, the post has since been deleted after receiving some downvotes, for the record I did not downvote the poster, but I will address their concerns. I can certainly understand why my post might raise suspicions. To give some background I have another account on HN that I've been active on for approximately three years and have a bit over 2000 karma. I post a few times a month, and by post I mean I usually just ask tons of questions about topics I have a limited understanding of and the kind people here try their best to explain things to me. I wanted to keep this account separate form that one since I don't post anything Amazon related using my normal account. I hope I don't sound like too much of a shill but I'm somewhat excited to finally be able to contribute to a topic I have some understanding of.


> He was being paid worker's comp during this time. This certainly made a good impression on me.

Just to be clear here: this is required by law, not something that the company is doing out of the goodness of its heart. It's also a fraction of what one's normal wages would be, which I would say is a more likely explanation for the injured person's eagerness to return than that "he missed his coworkers".

> they wanted to make sure he was completely healed and made it clear that he shouldn't rush things

I won't fault them for this, as I don't have details like what/how serious the injury was. But often a better alternative to no work at all is to temporarily reassign the person to another role where their injury is not an issue (desk job of some kind, generally). This way the employee continues to get full or near-full wages.

EDIT: Also, forgot to point out that work restrictions are defined by a doctor who treated the injured person, not by the employer. They can get in serious trouble for forcing someone to work in excess of those restrictions. So again, not really a sign of benevolence.


I appreciate you taking the time to explain this in more detail for me, I'm admittedly not clear on how this worker's comp stuff is supposed to be handled, thankfully I've never suffered any type of work related injury.

While I didn't mention it in my post my coworker was reassigned to less labor intensive duties once he returned to work. And from my understanding the doctor who treated him ok'd him to return to his normal duties but our direct manager had no problem with him taking longer in this less physical role.

I'm just adding this detail to paint a better picture but I think you've done a good job illustrating that this is the minimum that Amazon in required to do and they shouldn't be praised for doing what the law requires. I'm certainly not here to try and do PR for Amazon, just sharing my personal experiences.


Right, worker's compensation benefits are paid by an insurance company, not by the employer.


It is, but the cost of worker's comp insurance coverage for an employer is very closely tied to claims experience. If an employer has a track record of a lot of claims, their worker's comp insurance is going to be very expensive. So there's still an incentive for the employer to operate safely and minimize employee injuries.


Good points both, thanks for adding those details!


Actually, is it? Isn’t that a state by state thing? For the record I’m not positive but coming from an at-will State like FL that is also heavily favored to corporations, I am not certain.


Yes, I'm sure it varies from state to state, but the story specified CA, which does indeed have a legal requirement.


I hope I don't sound like too much of a shill but I'm somewhat excited to finally be able to contribute to a topic I have some understanding of.

I must admit the first thing I did was look at your comment history as your post sounded suspicious. If it was mixed in with other posts I'd have been inclined to take it more seriously than I can now.


I'd certainly say it's wise to be suspicious of any posts praising a company by current employees, and my posts are no exception. It would probably add more wight to my comments if I posted from my normal account but I don't feel comfortable doing that when talking about my employer, the potential risk for me isn't worth it. With that being said hopefully my comments don't come off quite as unashamedly positive and corporate as those Twitter accounts, which sound pretty over the top to me.


In response to you mentioning saving 1500 USD: You commented in another post that you lived out of your car (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15790455). There still seems to be something wrong. Maybe not Amazon, maybe all the companies around there. People with a fulltime job should earn enough not to be living out of a car!


Just to clarify that post was from quite a while ago and at that time I was living out of my car, I'm actually now sharing a room in an apartment. But I certainly agree it's not a good thing when people who are working are living out of their cars or worse.


People working a full-time job should also be able to afford their own room. It's no knock on you and your lifestyle, but I think we can do better than the standards of the 1920s.


No offense taken, and I'll be the last person to argue that anyone working in a country as wealthy as the USA shouldn't be able to afford a modest home, good healthcare, access to education, and some wiggle room for savings, at a minimum.


You write well, I can help you find online work to add to your amazon associate income, send an email to idesignradproducts@gmail.com


I think a lot of people have forgotten or never experience the satisfaction of doing work - especially after being out of work for a while. Keep it up! :)

On Amazon worker treatment generally it's hard to tell whether it is propaganda or maltreatment. Jeff Bezos is obviously a powerful man with a lot of people under him and that attracts all sorts of interest/enemies. It is also not unusual for companies to treat workers poorly - but my instinct is skeptical of media because it's difficult not to notice some Californians are notorious for drama development. I've done a lot of not-by-the-book stuff on building sites - we just didn't keep records and convert them into issues because we used common sense to be safe and it's good work but we could have easily made it sound dire and hit our employer with all sorts of costs that ultimately would have made us less valuable.


Right, for someone who sits behind a keyboard all day, working on your feet in a warehouse packing boxes, in a kitchen cooking burgers, or outside hauling lumber around a construction site in the rain, sounds like horrible work.

If Amazon warehouses were that bad, people wouldn't work there. I'm sure people get hurt, it's physical work. It's not a job you're going to enjoy if, like most adults, you are overweight and out of shape.

Not just in California but media today dramatize everything to get readers. The goal of almost any news story is to "go viral" to get clicks/views.


> If Amazon warehouses were that bad, people wouldn't work there.

I don't know how the conditions at Amazon warehouses truly are, but this statement doesn't sound correct to me. I can think of countless examples of workers that accept from sub-optimal conditions to outright modern slavery simply because they can't find an exit to the system of cheap labor exploitation.

Maybe this can be scoped down to some developed countries or some cities in developed countries, but certainly doesn't hold true for most developing countries and certainly not for past history in basically anywhere.


I would certainly question that line about paying 30% more. Without more details, it could easily be a distortion… For instance, comparing labor wages in an urban market like Seattle to a national average that includes places like rural Nebraska. Next I would wonder, why would Amazon pay so much more than their competitors? Would their shareholders accept that as fiscally responsible?


> Can anyone here speak to if those positive things are true and or mostly true? I have no idea.

I still don't understand. If you have no idea whether the things they claim are true, why has your opinion of Amazon's treatment of workers improved?

Is it that you don't think Amazon would be having their employees claim things that are misleading? We already have myriad claims of Amazon pressuring workers not to use the bathroom outside of breaks. And the same article mentions that the workers have to sign NDAs[1].

[1] https://www.seattletimes.com/business/amazon/under-pressure-...


Because the very act of storing information in your brain gives it credence, even if you don't go through the extra effort to verify whether it is correct. With repeated exposure it can become a belief, even a belief so strong that you will hold onto it in the face of evidence it is false. This can happen to anyone; it's a fundamental feature of how our memory works.

It works especially well for information that does not affect you personally, because you're less likely to go through the extra effort to verify whether something is true.

If your boss tells you that your salary is $100k/year, you're going to check that on your paycheck!

If your boss tells you that garbage collectors make $100k a year, you might not believe it, but you might also not bother to put in the effort to check. But if you remember it later on, the very act of bringing it out of your memory will reinforce it to you.

And if you don't go specifically check on the accuracy, you're also more likely to rely on social signals like, who is telling me this? Is this a person who I identify with? Does it seem like a person or an institution I should trust?

In this case, you are reading a news article from TechCrunch, a well-known, successful, and long-running news site. Any information you read there comes wrapped in however much trust you associate with TechCrunch. So if a claim is passed on in an article, it comes with some level of default trust.

And even if you don't like TechCrunch, the default level of trust is affected just by the act of reading the article. By default we tend to trust ourselves, so when we do something (like read an article), the default trust is pushed above zero, just because we're the one who read it! This effect is why most people think they are above average drivers, for example.

So: reading an article about an ad campaign, that contains the ad and its claims, can affect how you feel about the advertised product... even though you know it's an article about an ad campaign!

In marketing this is called "earned media" and it is valuable because it hijacks your trust for the media source to support the ad claim. A spectacular example was the "Swift Boat Truth" ad against John Kerry, which barely ran on late night TV, but was widely covered by the news media. It had a huge impact on Kerry's campaign for president.


I think it was an observation of their mental process at work, in which we tend to remember things we read as facts even if we do not know they are true (or even if we know they are not true at the time of reading). In other words: the change of opinion was not necessarily rational, why is why they said "It's amazing how well this works despite being obvious propaganda."


Note the tweet says they pay 30% more than "traditional retail stores". I don't think that's the right comparison. Pick & pack in a warehouse is much more physically demanding than being on the floor at Best Buy. The better question is do they pay more than UPS, or for that matter, picking strawberries?


It's a gish gallop. No one has time/energy to verify it all and they're not providing any proof.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gish_gallop

I wish I had a debating technique named after me.


In school I was interested in debate until I learned some of the rules, then I lost all interest. I expected to find a contest to effectively communicate and apply facts, but I found the opposite - a contest to be better at twisting, denying, or just ignoring facts. An effective debater is more likely to deceive me, not educate me.

I've not looked into it since high school, so I sometimes wonder if I misjudged, but links like that wikipedia one make me think I correctly avoided it.


I've been debating with a lot of alt-right people lately on Facebook and have been studying their debating tactics and how they apply them to support q-anon, and pizzagate, and Trump.

It's really fastinating to see all of these strategies played out in the real world.

I use these strategies to identify what they are doing and cut through the sophistry and attempt to reach the truth.

The nice thing about online debating is that you have time to think about and analyze the others argument vs on the spot debate where emotions get involved.


I feel this particular mind trick may be restricted to members of the HN community - who might already be very willing to give Amazon the benefit of doubt in the first place.

Note that, as you say, the information may be completely fabricated (or it may be "technically true", but attached to a lot of catches and conditions that the "ambassadors" conveniently didn't mention)

Also, while the article didn't research the claims, it did put them next to the (vastly better verified) claims of the ex-workers who reported absolutely undesirable working conditions. Even if they beat the pay for industry average, would that matter so much if they in turn offer vastly below-average working conditions?


there are the real meme wars


It's kind of like the Mere Exposure Effect, applied to talking points or claims.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mere-exposure_effect


Gish Gallop + Mere Exposure Effect + Streisand Effect (from the negative news coverage)


I think "never attribute to intelligence which can adequately be explained by stupidity" applies here.


I vote with my money, constantly. So Amazon was out long ago. Plenty of people I know pay attention to who owns what. To us, it's irrelevant how much they sockpuppet.


Where do you buy used books? I like the local bookstore as mch as the next guy, but I don't know of any reliable source for used books other than Amazon.


Also, I don't understand the presumption that independent stores are better on any of the dimensions that Amazon is bad. In my experience as a factory or call-centre worker, the smaller the business is the more likely it is that they will try to avoid tax on cash transactions, ask their workers to work unreasonable hours or accept average rates of pay that are less than minimum wage, violate health and safety laws, etc.


I’ve used https://www.betterworldbooks.com, they are a B Corp and donate a book for each book purchased.


Things like AbeBooks and Book Mooch exist. They just aren't as immediately convenient, so, the question is - as is often the case on the internet - convenience or morality.


FYI - Abebooks is owned by Amazon.


... and for a few years too, damn. Welp, guess I'll never use them again. Thank you!


The thing to keep in mind is that clickbait writers will take liberties when citing these twitter accounts, cutting up the quotes to make them sound natural.


"a serious PR problem" ... just a PR problem?


Had anyone ever done a piece of investigative journalism on the actual conditions at Amazon? A company that big will have some terrible managers, and the fact that it’s not discovering those easily, is problematic, but that doesn’t mean the entire company is rotten.

I’m a manager in a Scandinavian municipality, and because I work with lean and efficiency I get to see all sides of our operation. I’ve seen departments run so badly that employees were crying every day, and it took HR a year to fix it. I’ve seen departments where sleeping with the boss was the main road to a pay-raise. Hell one of our senior managers who sleeps with employees at the Christmas party, still works for us because nobody wants to step up in public. Some departments have 30% sickleave while others have 2%.

That doesn’t mean the overall working conditions are bad at the municipality. In fact we score 9/10 in employment satisfaction. This in itself is a bit of a problem though, because it’s higher than it should be, but that’s another story.

when you employ hundreds of thousands, you’re bound to have some really bad stories among them. Amazon may be all bad, and I could easily have missed the story that actually did the research, but I simply haven’t seen one.


The side of Amazon that works in offices and makes good money also has a reputation as a bad place to work, compared to other major tech companies. See the "Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk" article from the NYT a few years back. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-... Anecdotally, as you say, that does seem to depend a lot on your department--good local management can make a lot of difference--but you don't see anywhere near that many horror stories coming out of Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc. It does seem that Amazon, as a company, is less concerned about the welfare of its white-collar employees.

And if they don't mind abusing their highly paid, highly skilled knowledge workers, I would be amazed if they gave a single fuck about their unskilled laborers.


I live in Seattle and thus a notable percentage of my social circle works for Amazon corporate.

None of them love working at Amazon, and only a few like it there, but most are pretty miserable.

I think the stock performance is keeping most of them there with how Amazon’s vesting schedule tends to be heavily backloaded. One guy did comment that he loves the scale of the things he’s working on, which I guess I get, but he always complains about the overall culture.


Yep. It seems to be a US thing, incidentally. I worked at Amazon in Edinburgh for eight years, and it was pretty nice. Not perfect, certainly, but there was definitely a lot more respect for work-life balance, and a lot less pressure to perform or be fired.

One of our UK folks moved to the Seattle office, and noticed a serious difference in culture: much more pressure, more expectation that you would work any number of extra hours to get things done by the deadline, much higher rates of burnout and turnover.

For what it's worth, in eight years I never saw anybody cry at their desk.


That's the way to get the warehouse workers to comply. Arguably it's BETTER (certainly more effective) if it's that way all the way up the chain, because you'll get buy-in if the lower rungs see that the upper rungs of the latter are pushing themselves just as hard or harder.

If Jeff Bezos cries at his desk, into his apparently meaningless kabillions of dollars, because he just CAN'T quite keep up with what he expects of himself, that would be the final piece of the puzzle. I would suggest that's not impossible: it'd fit the pattern.

At that point the question you ask isn't 'is this fair or are the people getting exploited'. Instead you ask 'are all these people crazy? Do we need to have some kind of intervention?'

The key point here is that you can't assume the situation is designed to abuse lowly workers and coddle management. I think a key innovation at Amazon is, everyone cries at work and/or dies in harness, no exceptions.

It's fair to talk about whether that's acceptable. From all the horror stories, and from my understanding of business, they manage to extend the abuse as high up as possible, and it might go a lot higher than you think. The goal is to make a company full of desperate, last-ditch warriors that try to destroy all competition to their last dying frothing breaths: again, no exceptions.

Should all society work like this? I think that's debatable, but allow an Amazon to do it and they'll steadily kill everything else, and that's the intention.


This matches a recent experience of mine working on a dev team at a large tech company. We joked about ADD or "Abuse-Driven Development," because we would always hear our bosses say, "X needs to be in tomorrow or I'm going to get screamed at," "Okay, which of these is going to be a bigger beating if it's missing," "I live and die by this product," "It's my ass that's on the line for this," etc. Not only that, but they would brag about how little they were being paid and how late they worked every day. We would get emails from them after 1AM regularly. I never encountered any behavior like that at any other company.


Microsoft in the past had a pretty notorious employee performance system called "stack ranking" where basically no matter how well you did your job you could get classified as a "bottom performer" because a certain percentage had to be ranked lowest. It was a contributor to poor morale and employee stress. Many sales-oriented companies (Oracle?) will have similar performance metrics, e.g. next-to-impossible sales goals, etc. Amazon is not the only company to have a high-pressure work environment.


As a Seattle-ite, I know people at Amazon and at Microsoft.

The Amazon stories are pretty consistent in their awfulness. The people doing more clerical/support stuff seem to have a better time than especially engineers. People usually bail in less than a year, even those who are indentured for moving expenses. There was an especially sad case where a new Amazon employee moved in next door after relocating his family from another part of the country - initially enthused, but it all went to hell and they fled.

Microsoft is much more a hodgepodge. Certainly from the top down it's become so much better post-Ballmer. Actual experiences depend on your group even more so than Amazon, but at least the top is pretty benevolent. I know creative people who truly love their Microsoft lives (and I'm envious), but I've had the occasional interviews with them, all dysfunctional in unpleasant ways (e.g. having someone blow cigarette smoke in your face while making a personally dismissive statement). I keep trying because they are in fact a decent employer in the greater scheme of things.


Yup, google BBC documentary on Amazon warehouse workers too, it reveals the terrible working conditions, albeit it’s a couple of years old.

Edit: in fact, it’s available here on YouTube: https://youtu.be/UQATFbLvIHk


Don't overlook that these filmmakers are heavily incentivized to create a dramatic story. No one will watch a film that says "Yep, it's a pretty normal warehouse, and they even pay a little more than their peers", and the filmmakers certainly won't win respect or accolades for putting out such a piece. This is a well-known problem with any "reality-based" programming; the incentives of the documentarians are primarily to provide an exhilarating narrative.


> This is a well-known problem with any "reality-based" programming

Panorama isn't a "reality-based" programme. It's an undercover investigative programme.

The problem with "reality-based" programming is that some scenes are completely falsified or exaggerated (with the knowing assistance of the show 'participants'). Most of them even have to put a disclaimer at the end of the show saying as much.

Notwithstanding that every produced show is going to have some slant to a point, to classify the linked video as "reality-based" is completely and utterly disingenuous.


Thing is, all those department managers -- the good ones and the bad ones -- are working under the same hierarchy and, eventually, under the same people. When there's just one or two isolated cases of pricks who are quickly booted, that's an accident, but when this is business as usual, it's company culture. Every department is one promotion, lateral move, sabbatical or resignation away from being ran by a maniac. So there's no solace in the idea that well, as long as you're in the right team, it's pretty good. It's as if all of it were rotten.

Besides, this has made it to the press more than once, so it's not like even the most disconnected senior management team wouldn't know about it. It's known, it's been known for years, and since nothing appears to have happened for years, it's a pretty safe bet that this is just how the company is ran. That's the kind of rot that spreads easily.


> Had anyone ever done a piece of investigative journalism on the actual conditions at Amazon?

Sure, see https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-... for one example.


A funny memory is how the right-wing mocked this article relentlessly, before Jeff Bezos was bad in their minds. I can't wait for Alex Jones et al to become advocates for warehouse workers all of a sudden.


It's weird, you'd think they want to support 'blue collar' workers, like warehouse workers...


> That doesn’t mean the overall working conditions are bad at the municipality. In fact we score 9/10 in employment satisfaction. This in itself is a bit of a problem though, because it’s higher than it should be, but that’s another story.

That's not another story at all, it completely undermines your point. "We can't be doing so bad because we score well on this metric (oh BTW this metric is obviously being gamed somehow)" does not convince me that you're actually doing okay at all.


Bear in mind that being really crazygonuts evil is a weakness: it's a vulnerability, begging for legislation or boycott. There's absolutely not a direct correlation between evil and profitability, unless maybe you're a banker.

Amazon's a storefront. They have to serve two masters, one of which is the customer. The other is their reputation among capitalists and rivals.

On the one hand they must promise to deliver better prices and choices than other storefronts, all while assuring customers that they have happy workers and aren't doing anything horrifying.

On the other, they must continue to convince Wall Street and possible rivals that they're the most brutal tyrants on the block and will inevitably kill and devour ALL competitors, all the more because they don't pay dividends and earn people money based on their expansion alone.

Amazon's designed to use psychology to get all employees working like Spartans. If you see this behavior in a sports team, or in open source, typically you go 'hey, cool' and approve of the fierce eagerness to strive. It's part of the human experience and can be used in many ways.

If it's used to condition warehouse workers to accept a situation where they're compensated, but driven to efficiencies that kill a percentage of them, that raises the question of what's the responsibility of those managers. To run a group of humans at those levels of output requires coddling them to some extent, and 'giving them the choice' to walk away (but if you're compensating them even a little better than usual they'll get used to it and resist walking away, even at their own peril: especially if they're thinking Spartan)

This desire to perform and be part of a team isn't something imposed on humans by evil corporations. It's a natural human tendency, which is why Amazon's strategies work. What Amazon does is exploit that as hard as they're allowed to do.

Offering the chance to shill for part of your shift, and offering this only to an elite who're able to do it effectively, is a really clever social exploit. Will it continue to be allowed? Maybe. It's very much the kind of thing that's bending 'the rules' for their benefit, and to do it properly you kind of have to be Amazon. Remember that the whole purpose of the exercise is to further crush any competitors, including those who might have marginally better labor practices… or buy and destroy anything that might have better labor practices, for instance Whole Foods.

It's fair to argue that turning employment into a monoculture in which everything out there works this way (thus foul and no fouler, we hope) is a bad thing to do.


>Offering the chance to shill for part of your shift, and offering this only to an elite who're able to do it effectively, is a really clever social exploit. Will it continue to be allowed? Maybe. It's very much the kind of thing that's bending 'the rules' for their benefit, and to do it properly you kind of have to be Amazon.

That strategy or similar has been going on for a long time, Amazon isn't doing something unseen before and they are probably just copying it from what they've seen. I've seen a local utility run an ad featuring claimed employees talking about their employer/company in a positive on television.

I've also seen similar ads from an oil industry company, and others.


I wonder if the recruiters for these “totally optional roles” are the sort who would also provide helpful reminders that wearing 15 pieces of flair is just the bare minimum.

> Look, we want you to express yourself, okay? Now if you feel that the bare minimum is enough, then okay. But some people choose to wear more and we encourage that, okay? You do want to express yourself, don't you?

-- Office Space, 1999

I can almost feel the soul leeching sensation behind the forced cheerfulness. Though that could be a bit of projection if these are PR people pretending to be workers instead of workers acting as PR people.

But it's still disturbing in a more direct way than news reports about workers peeing in bottles to help shave time to hit performance targets.


On the upside, I recently learned that the actual restaurant chain that inspired that bit quietly did away with flair after the movie came out.

/apropos of nothing



These accounts certainly seem like they are being directed or encouraged by corporate. I know quite a few of the ambassadors at the warehouse where I work and I don't think any of them would post these kind of responses on Twitter without some kind of direction from above.

Also, in case there is confusion with the term "ambassador", from my understanding this is mostly an internal title for associates who lead some training sessions for new hires. It doesn't come with any pay or benefit increases, it's just a nice thing to do if you like training new hires and want an occasional break from your normal duties. These aren't really meant to be outward facing brand ambassadors, at least that's been my understanding.

Disclosure: I work at an Amazon warehouse.


Someone above wrote this:

> People get bathroom breaks, but those count against your rate, and people do sometimes get written up for taking them, although that's as much a matter of Amazon encouraging ruthlessness in management as anything. I know of one anecdotal story of a worker who was apparently written up for the time it took them to clean up after their own nosebleed.

Does this ring true to you?


So I want to be very clear that based on extensive reports I've read in the press, and anecdotes that have been shared online, what krapp said definitely goes on, but no, personally I have never witnessed that.

There are two main reasons why it's possible that I've never run across such cases, the most logical one being that I've worked primarily in a Delivery Station and not a Fulfillment Center. From what I've experienced the Delivery Stations are, for lack of a better term, not run as "efficiently" as the FC's, so the metrics that are used to track employee performance aren't quite as well quantified. There is still obviously a lot of performance tracking with regards to rates, but due to the less efficient and structured layout of the DS, there seems to be a bit more leeway given.

Also, I think I've been extremely fortunate with the management that I work under and they seem to take worker safety and the overall work environment very seriously. I can't imagine any managers at my station writing anyone up for taking bathroom breaks, and definitely not for handling a bloody nose. Again, just to be clear, I'm not at all refuting the accuracy of those reports, issues like that have definitely occurred in Amazon warehouses, but the environment at my warehouse seems to be significantly more worker friendly. I think this is probably due to our station managers' oversight.

Also, I've only been working at Amazon for slightly over one year, so it's possible that they have been making genuine progress on these issues.


I think the truth of the matter is, Amazon's network is big enough to allow a significant amount of variance in employee experience (despite Amazon itself being culturally adamant about reducing variance as much as possible.)

Some workers do wind up camping in their cars and peeing in bottles to make rate, most don't. What people wind up complaining about tend to be exceptions rather than the rule, but those exceptions do exist.


If being pilloried for that kind of management behavior costs Amazon sales and effectiveness, it's a weakness that must be stamped out exactly as much as it has to.

Progress is a loaded word. If you said that Amazon has been doing serious optimization on that stuff, I'd call that more accurate. Bear in mind that part of the pressure is 'don't get PR-worthy nosebleeds or have to pee all the time'; in no way is this an effort to make workers comfortable or complacent.

It's just that having people fall over dead, or getting punished for nosebleeds, or pissing in bottles to make quota, are such bad PR that they have to be optimized away. You can't go THAT hard. There's a limit to how hard you can push before it starts to look bad, so you end up having to be just as grimly competitive about the details of work environment.

Anyone thinking Amazon is trying to maximize worker suffering is a fool: there's a point where it becomes a liability, and they will optimize until it's just on the safe side of 'horror story'.


> I can't imagine any managers at my station writing anyone up for taking bathroom breaks, and definitely not for handling a bloody nose.

What exactly is the policy on bathroom breaks?


So just to give you a little background info, the DS I work at runs 24/7 using multiple shifts. The bulk of the work is done by the night shift which usually runs from around 11pm to 5:45am. This is the largest shift with 150+ associates and the one that is under the most time pressure. Packages have to be unloaded from trucks and make their way through the warehouse on a conveyor belt system to be stowed in bags that the delivery drivers pick up in the morning. The main duties consist of unloading the trucks, diverting the packages down different lanes, picking the correct packages off the moving belt and placing them on a rack, and then stowing the packages into their appropriate bags located on shelving units. Each one of these steps is done by a different person. I'm providing some extra info here so you get a feel for how the warehouse runs. Basically anyone leaving their post even for a few minutes will result in packages not being properly sorted/stowed and the conveyor belts getting backed up and potentially jammed.

The policy at our station is that if you need to go to the bathroom when not on break or lunch, you need to tell either a line lead, shift assistant, or the people working next to you so that they can cover your post while you're gone so things don't get backed up or packages don't end up spilling on the ground. That's pretty much it. I've worked the night shift before and drink large amounts of water so I could rarely make it through a shift without using the bathroom one or two times in addition to the times I went while on break and lunch. It was never a problem, we would just cover for each other.


(I've worked in an FC for over a year. I'm an L1, not a PA or manager.)

Most functions in FCs are "direct": they have rate expectations that are automatically tracked. Every minute you're in a direct function counts toward your rate. You can go to the bathroom whenever you need to, but it'll lower your rate. (Some functions are "indirect", meaning that they don't involve use of any digital tools and so can't be tracked.)

"Time off task" is also automatically tracked. If you go some amount of time without scanning anything -- I think it's five minutes -- that'll show up on your time. Managers know that people have to go to the bathroom and usually won't make a big deal out of it, but if you take an unusually long time in the bathroom you might get written up. TOT writeups are supposed to be automatic but I think managers have some discretion.

I think I was written up for a bathroom break before -- I'm not sure, since my FC isn't very good at delivering feedback -- but I was in there for half an hour, so it was sort of understandable.

There haven't been issues with bathroom breaks where I am, but there's only one floor. The site in the story with associates peeing in bottles apparently had multiple floors, with bathrooms only on the bottom floor. It'd be difficult to take a bathroom break while maintaining the expected rate and low TOT at sites like that.

I think rate expectations are consistent across the network, meaning that managers, or even site leads, can't adjust them to account for things like distance to the bathroom.

In short: you won't get written up for taking a bathroom break, and you can just go to the bathroom when you need to, but you might get written up for low rates or high time off task, and you might end up with low rates or high time off task for going to the bathroom if it's far away or you take a long time.


So, in short: You might get written up for taking a bathroom break if the bathrooms are far away from where you work?


I'm basing this on the articles about it. I've never personally seen it happen. I've seen people duck out to the bathroom to take phone calls and they don't seem to have run into any trouble over it; but where I work, the bathrooms aren't far from the floor.

If you have to go down four stories to get to the bathroom, on the other hand, it'd be pretty hard to maintain the rate, and if you don't maintain the rate you'll probably get written up for that.


I'm so glad I canceled my Amazon membership. I don't want anyone working in these conditions. My items can wait a few days to ship


Last year, for some reason, I was so emotionally invested in an interview at Amazon I was researching their leadership principles and such like some sort of bootlicking rube. I'm very glad I didn't get that job. Whatever Jeff Bezos' vision is matters not to me, and I can't wait until America decides to put community and quality before convenience and cheapness (I may wait forever, I know).

I suppose the reason I was so invested was the idea that if I had that job on my resume, I could get a job anywhere. Doesn't seem like a good reason to do something.


I wont't buy anything from Amazon. Period.

Grand Tour is my weak point though...


Torrents are your friend!


> I can safely say that none of MY ideas have panned out anywhere near what Jeff Bezos has accomplished. I am more than happy, though, to continue working here, at BFI4, in WA. I receive a (more than fair) wage and work with some really good people. Making history, every day.

Blink twice if you need help


> "Dear Lisa - As I write this, I am very sad. My ideas have not panned out LIKE THOSE OF MIGHTY JEFF BEZOS, WHO ALSO PAYS US VERY WELL. Sincerely, WAREHOUSE WORKER"


Is BTIYNH code for "conform, they're watching. We need to get out of here."


Shit, if I was an Amazon warehouse worker and had the chance to get paid the same except SOME of my workload was sitting down and shilling for Amazon on twitter, I would jump (well, sit) at the chance.

It's a different kind of demanding, more like being a commercial writer, probably more open to people who are damn good commercial writers and happen to be working as a picker in an Amazon warehouse. It'd be like getting paid as a picker but being paid to have breaks and worker rights.

I don't think it's illegal to do this, but it is as manipulative as it's possible to be. Therefore that's probably just what's happening there: if you can write and shill effectively on Twitter there's a chance that you get to do that and pretend to yourself that it's a break or rest period.

Very Amazonian.


>Shit, if I was an Amazon warehouse worker and had the chance to get paid the same except SOME of my workload was sitting down and shilling for Amazon on twitter, I would jump (well, sit) at the chance.

They probably wouldn't let you sit down, unless you were shilling on your lunch break. Amazon has a policy against their warehouse workers sitting down while on the job, not even HR is allowed to sit when they're staffing the front.

You can squat though, and I've tried to get around it by sitting seiza.


>>>Seiza is the Japanese term for one of the traditional formal ways of sitting in Japan

I am surprised there's no workplace shootings in Amazon warehouses a la USPS.


There's no way they're actually writing this stuff. At best they're real employees allowing a company to tweet on their behalf.


People talk about blockchain and ML/AI as the revolutionary technologies of the day, but I think public manipulation via the Internet (social media at least, probably more) may turn out to be more significant.

Is it real and does it work? Undoubtedly, there are people who believe it works and invest a lot of resources in it, from businesses to political movements to governments (Russia and China, for example). We can see that disinformation can be effectively spread, and it seems hatred and other things as well. Arguably, we can see it to a degree in Facebook's and Google's (and others') valuations. We discuss it, from a different perspective, on HN regularly. But what are the technical details of this new tool: In what situations does it work and in what does it not? How powerful is it? How much does it cost? How does it work on a detailed level? What are the key components of this machine? Is anyone talking - we know it's done widely, so it seems that information about this technology should be available. (I'm not asking for speculation - we have heard plenty of that - I'm looking for actual technical knowledge.)

Another way of looking at it: Perhaps it's analogous to the Creel Commission - innovations in manipulation via a new communication technology.

For example, how did Amazon and others turn around Seattle's new tax so quickly and effectively? IIRC, it was widely supported and then public opinion reversed itself in a matter of months.


I believe Snowden shined a light at some of the disinformation programs that are operated by the govt. I know for a fact these types of campaigns exist on a regular basis on a grand scale.



They’re not chatbots - the replies are too specific and organic in some of the tweets I read. I’m guessing Amazon told these workers that someone would convey their general sentiments on their behalf. That or this is satire, I hope.


My observation: The article doesn't say that it is automated, just that they're drones (meaning: always behaving the same way). I assume they hired a few people to do this (optionally through some other company). It seems like they got a few standard responses and they need to stick to that. Might be e.g. in Manilla or somewhere in India. Reasoning is that they really stay to the script. The responses are so similar, normally you'd try to tweak it more so it is more natural. I noticed for outsourced stuff they tend to stick more to the script no matter if it makes sense or not. It's up to the manager to notice that the something needs to be tweaked.


They could even source the sentiments through Mechanical Turk.


i'm with satire, or counter marketeering


I don't think the ground workers at Amazon:

1. Care about tweeting about their company.

2. Talk like that.

However, I think this could be real if:

1. Amazon has some incentive program that basically allows workers to take on a "marketing assignment" for some sort of bonus. If so, how is this different than contriving good reviews about your restaurant on Yelp?

2. Amazon has developed or is paying for third party software that lets their PR people quickly manage and create activity on multiple Twitter accounts from a central interface.


1. Care about tweeting about their company.

I feel the same way. I know a lot of warehouse associates are active on some of the Amazon Instagram pages, but that's mostly just silly pictures and activities. I don't think anyone would post such detailed responses on their own when they aren't being paid.


>Amazon has some incentive program that basically allows workers to take on a "marketing assignment" for some sort of bonus.

I haven't heard of any such program, but if it existed, I guarantee Amazon wouldn't offer a bonus for it.


They wouldn't offer a bonus. They'd offer entry into a drawing for an Amazon gift card. But I haven't heard of any such program either, nor of any attempt to get us to run PR for them, other than occasionally sending out emails asking us to review Amazon on Glassdoor.

(IME, most FC associates never check their Amazon email accounts, so they wouldn't see that.)


For some reason my station never even offers Amazon gift cards during contests, it's usually Subway, Starbucks, Target, or occasionally a Visa prepaid card.

And I'm fairly certain most associates at my station aren't even aware they have an @amazon email address so they definitely aren't checking it. Nice to see another L1 around here.


> 2. Amazon has developed or is paying for third party software that lets their PR people quickly manage and create activity on multiple Twitter accounts from a central interface.

I feel like this would be infinitely cheaper, more quantifiable and easier to set concrete milestones/targets for their campaigns than telling employees to tweet on Amazon's behalf and hoping for the best.

All it takes is for one of these ambassadors to get fired/quit and their pro-Amazon platform becomes an anti-Amazon soapbox.


Since they have Amazon in the Twitter handle it’d be easy to shut the accounts down on trademark grounds.


Of late Amazon has been working hard internally to improve its company image. There are frequent emails about reviewing Amazon on glass door, they also provide images of the Amazon smiley and encourage employees to use this as a background on their social media profiles. They encourage employees to follow and retweet the Amazon news handle on Twitter. So this one does not seem organic and is part of Amazon drive to improve the image about working culture, definitely pr.


It has been proven time and again that if a company is doing well financially, their internal people policies are not paid attention to.

All the people centric PR that companies dish out is simply another strategy to make more money without employee revolt.

Having said this, it's not completely company's fault. The financial system judges companies solely on their profits and future outlook, not employee happiness and well being.


I'm fairly certain these are satire and not actually affiliated with Amazon at all.

Just the bio alone seems to give it away:

https://twitter.com/fc_ambassador/with_replies

Maybe only this one is satire? Hard to tell which level of galaxy brain this is.


That one certainly seems like satire, but the ones in the article do not, e.g. https://twitter.com/AmazonFCCarol


I'm pretty sure that one's satire, probably in response to this article. I looked at a few others in the search results, and they didn't seem to be satire.


They've updated the article and Amazon has acknowledged these employees are getting paid for this.


This isn't limited to Amazon and Twitter. I see similar "pleasantries" posted about Netflix on Reddit.


I'm not an Amazon shill, look at my post history.

I don't understand all of this press. If you don't like your job working at Amazon, quit. If the conditions are terrible, release proof to the public, so other people don't even start working there.

Wash, rinse, repeat, and Amazon will either change the supposed working conditions or hopefully fail.

Why do we need so much press on both sides for such a non-issue?


It shows you are a product of the valley. Some people. Can't just quit their job, if they do their lives implode and does so fast.


Because the job of the press is disseminating this proof to the public. Shouting into a void doesn't actually get you anywhere.


That's so bougouis of you. Believe it or not most people dont work jobs just for kicks. It's their survival. And they can't just get job training to get a new job because they don't have the time or money.

The python of capitalism has cinched itself around their neck.

This is like 50% of America too believe it or not.


My brother actually worked in an Amazon warehouse for awhile and indeed it sounds like a dreadful work environment (although I am comparatively spoiled in software engineering and my brother hasn’t actually worked in similar jobs in warehouses for other companies, so it’s hard to judge from his experience alone if it’s an Amazon thing or just these kinds of jobs in general).

However (and I’m bracing for impact here), I don’t quite understand why everyone hates on Amazon that much for this. They don’t force anyone to work there. Indeed my brother found a new job after two years. It’s a bit like getting mad at San Francisco landlords for charging so much: you can get mad at them, but it’s really our fault for agreeing to pay. Or people getting mad at how much athletes get paid. They get paid a lot because we agree we pay to watch them. Amazon have shit working conditions because people agree to work there for what they pay. All of these things are literally just trades. If we don’t like it, don’t trade with them.


The answer lies in unequal bargaining power, public shaming/awareness is the best we can do.

There's the added irony of Mr. Bezos publicly the richest man in the world having his workers hold their pee.

Amazon will not care about its least protected workers until Amazon feels the backlash in lowered sales.

If your locality has Amazon warehouse as the largest employer your options are quite limited.

It is similar to having a coal mine in 19th century(or recycling center in 21st century China) being the largest employer. Nice to have a job at first, but black lung is not so nice after a while.

The conditions do not have to be that bad, Costco has proven that.

Other FAANGs get less flack in this regard because they outsource all the menial/routine jobs(Facebook and Google outsource a lot of horrible MTurk like jobs) and they do not need as many of them.

PS I had 2 friends who worked at the Amazon UK Warehouse a few years back. They only lasted 6 months before the repetitive injuries took their toll. And it was pretty much impossible to have a day off.


> If your locality has Amazon warehouse as the largest employer your options are quite limited.

As the only employer, right? (Of the kind that doesn't ask for much different qualifications ofc.) Not largest. And in practice I'm skeptical of how often this is the really case. My brother isn't particularly specifically qualified in any trade but even he had options once he started working. And even then in this hypothetical town where Amazon is the only employer, you could say well, of all the rich companies at least Amazon is giving jobs to people. What's everyone else doing? Aren't they more morally culpable? Does any company even owe anyone a job anyways? It seems to me that the government should do more to help these people have more of a fighting chance of bargaining in the world by training them in schools, etc.

> Other FAANGs get less flack in this regard because they outsource all the menial/routine jobs(Facebook and Google outsource a lot of horrible MTurk like jobs)

> Amazon will not care about its least protected workers until Amazon feels the backlash in lowered sales.

Truth.


What do people actually propose as an alternative? By all accounts it seems like the media examples of things such as 'peeing in bottles' are extremely isolated incidents and not representative of normal working conditions. Anywhere that has hundreds of thousands of employees - you're going to be able to find some crazy isolated anecdotes.

The labor we're talking about is literally moving boxes. How much should a box mover get paid? The US GDP per capita is currently around $53k. Our box movers get about $13/hour which is $26k in wages alone. Imagine we went to some sort of dystopic economy where we took every single penny anybody made producing anything in this country and split it up according to what some person or group felt was 'fair'. How much should a box mover get? That they already get a 50% share is phenomenal in my opinion.

The mine analogy fails to consider that we're inching ever closer to a 0% unemployment rate. We're currently in a labor market, which is probably a big part of the reason why you can get $13/hour for moving boxes. And moving boxes isn't going to hurt you. Give me two people - one that moves boxes 8 hours a day and one that sits in a chair staring at a screen for 8 hours a day, and I'd give you big odds that 20 years out that box mover is going to be in far better shape, all other things being equal. Those first months and maybe even years though are going to be tough, especially for people with soft bodies.


>The labor we're talking about is literally moving boxes. How much should a box mover get paid?

The thing is, there is the value of a job to the employer, and the value of employment to the employee.

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a full time employee, at the very least, to be paid a living wage. Someone willing to commit that much of their life to a company should be compensated enough to allow them to house and feed themselves. Even if they're just "moving boxes."


Think about what you're doing. I am asking for specific ideas and numbers, and you're responding with homily. This is what I mean. You can't just critique and moralize without offering specific workable solutions. The system we have is not great. Who wouldn't want a world where everybody could just have more or less whatever they want, live extremely comfortably, and for it to all be completely sustainable? But that's also not realistic.

That's why I bring up the GDP and what it actually means. GDP is literally the market rate of every single good and service produced in this nation. And that only equals out to $50k per person. Our wealth really is in complete spite of our economy -- that's without even getting into the fact that the GDP is currently at record levels.

Various areas have tried now increasing the minimum wage to a level approaching $15 with results that have been, at best, 'mixed'. The point is that you cannot simply ignore economic realities when trying to create a better life for people. This is specifically why social economic systems have been tried numerous times, yet they seem to invariably result in literal starvation. They're well intentioned, but out of touch with reality - and the consequences for putting homily above reality tend to be a brief period of feel good, followed by devastation.


Indeed some would argue that a minimum wage can be quite damaging: for those in society who are unproductive so as not to be worth $x an hour, a minimum wage of >= $x actually definitely excludes them from the workforce. They’re even more damned than before. Now I’m not sure either way if a minimum wage of 0 or $x is a good idea, but I would generally go with whatever the evidence suggestions (and I havn’t looked into it). What I find really bizarre is why yours and mine comments are being downvotes so much. Are we not contributing to the discussion? Bit of an echo chamber around here.


> for those in society who are unproductive so as not to be worth $x an hour, a minimum wage of >= $x actually definitely excludes them from the workforce

Wages are not objectively determined on the basis of worker productivity. If that were the case, wages would rise with productivity, but they tend not to. Wages are a cost that employers want to keep as low as possible in all cases - indeed, lower in cases of higher productivity, for a greater return on investment.

A stower at Amazon can make their monthly salary for the company in minutes by stowing a couple of XBoxes, yet they'll make the same 12.00/hr over a ten hour shift regardless. The value that an employee brings to a company is always less than their compensation. Never more, and certainly never equal.

I'm not certain the actual workforce bears out the premise that a minimum wage definitely prices workers out, since if it did, one would expect none of those jobs to be filled, since no employer should want to pay a minimum wage to fill them.


I think your post is a clear example of why people seem to rage completely inappropriately. I'm sure your example was rhetorical, but do you realize how rhetorical it was? People seem to vastly overestimate how much companies make per item. Amazon's profit margin is currently at record breaking levels -- of 4.79%. It historically averages around 2%. That means on e.g. $300 of product (as a game console costs), they would show an average profit of $6-$14. They need to move hundreds of thousands of dollars of product to pay the yearly salary for a single blue-collar worker. A box mover is making nowhere near his monthly compensation for moving a couple of XBoxes, even we ignore the vast number of other expenses that go into the process and pretend that 100% of the profit from those boxes can go straight to him.

As for minimum wage, businesses aren't identical -- even when they are. For instance a McDonald's franchise in one area of a mostly homogenous part of town can end up having a substantially different overall performance than one in a different area in our mostly homogenous town. There's a large number of variables that can be difficult to account for. And of course reality is different businesses operating in different areas in heterogeneous towns. So you don't eliminate all jobs of a given wage level - you just reduce the demand for them by removing all companies that can't afford to pay those wages.


I read your post several times and I still don't know what statement of mine you're contesting.


Convincingly wiping out those "isolated incidents" would be a good start. Making sure those can be safely reported, and systemic reasons encouraging them are removed. Low pay is one thing, bad working conditions another, the latter being a lot harder to justify.


Completely agreed about trying to ensure there are as few systemic issues as possible. But on the issue of 'isolated incidents', you have to be realistic. Amazon's size alone would put it as the 31st largest city in the US. And they, like ever more companies, have massive turnover at all levels.

Expectation of no isolated incidents is equivalent to expectation of never hiring bad apples -- and that's just impossible. It's impossible even at much smaller companies. The only difference is when Amazon screws up, it makes front page international news, and when e.g. you or I screw up, the response is much more isolated.


Sure, Amazon is also under special scrutiny here, but also has to my knowledge never made a strong public statement admitting any of this ever happened and how it has been corrected. They certainly look like they don't particularly care.


Let's say you're Jeff Bezos, and you genuinely and completely care about the situation and are doing everything you can to remedy it. I'm not saying he is, but just for the sake of argument. Would you then make that strong public statement?

I wouldn't. To explain why, why do you think it is that most of all politicians give non-answers or the most banal safe, focus tested, and inane answers to everything? I mean we elect these people. Do we like that behavior? Well ostensibly no, but consider how we react when a politician does or says anything that might outrage any possible group or segment of society. It spreads like wildfire and we collectively freak out and ensure they're replaced in rapid order by somebody better. Who's that "better" politician? The one who doesn't tell you anything. So while we complain to no end about having lying, duplicitous politicians who never give a straight answer - we ensure that they're the only people that can make it in to office.

Back to Amazon. You admit some weakness and acknowledge a problem and assure people you're going to try to focus on doing better. Are people going to positively receive this message, appreciate your forthrightness, and look forward to future developments. Or are they going to focus on the fact that you just acknowledged a very major issue and utilize that to try to generate even more outrage? And should something, completely outside of Amazon's control, some freak incident occur again - will society understand that they can't stop every single thing? Or will people instead use that as "proof" that Amazon was lying all along and use it generate even greater outrage. You see, since one bad happened - they must have been lying all along...

And on top of this all, we have no attention span. Remember Equifax? Of course you do, but they've probably already started to slip from your mind and become just another blur in the history of things we were fumingly angry at for a week or two, before something else caught our attention. Amazon acknowledging the issue not only stands to turn against them, but makes even less sense given that the issue will disappear from the public mind imminently - especially with elections just around the corner. Our online behavior is shaping the optimal way for companies to treat us. And I think that we're doing exactly what we do in politics - ensuring nobody but demons can survive, and then complaining when all we have are demons.


Being in that position for many years. Its not about they pay so much as its about the pressure to constantly be working in extremely unhealthy physical and mental way. Which takes its toll long term. Something that took me years to recover from and I'm the lucky one. Don't expect people working in factories their entire life to pick up programming/software development because their minds will be warped by the repetitive nature of all these activities, which only reinforce all their problems day to day making life even worse. All they can think about is their problems while they are mindlessly doing repetitive work.

If your going to force people to live like that, and it definitely is not a choice anyone makes you might as well give them a little dignity and not treat them like a machine. Don't put insane pressures on them leading them to pee in bottles. The rate thing is evil lets be honest. If you had to program every day certain lines of code and your performance was judged based on that and how long you went to the bathroom you would go nuts too.


Maybe they get a whole 5 minutepee break if they tweet when they clock in?


I'm not even disturbed. I'm just very puzzled that there are people who would think these messages were anything but pure PR propaganda. It's so blatantly obvious to me.

...and it might just be my unfamiliarity, but "FC Ambassador" just reminds me of football more than anything else. That part of their branding isn't working, if they're trying to get into the minds of people who aren't familiar with the company.


You’d be surprised what people will believe. I once commanded 11m Facebook fans. It was surprisingly easy to convince a certain percentage of people to do whatever you tell them to do. Some people are so gullible blind and stupid that it makes you lose some faith in humanity when you see how easily manipulated they can be.


"FC Ambassador" is Amazon jargon. An FC is a fulfillment center, and an ambassador is an L1 associate who's gone through training for coaching new hires... or something like that. They don't really have added responsibilities where I am. I've heard the role is a bigger deal in distribution centers.


For some reason I get a Hyperion vibe from these tweets.


Could you elaborate on this?


What would be really classic is if this was funded by Microsoft to sicken Amazon’s white collar workforce and make them more easily poachable.


This is very clearly dirty.


If you're taking anything on twitter seriously, then there is a problem.

There is no signal in that noise.


[flagged]


Ah, I see you've learned quite well from them!


1) did Amazon Australia use an intermediate labour hire agency or directly employ it's new warehouse workers. And, how does this compare to ICT staff.

2) does or does not bezos oppose collective bargaining and unions?

3) is it true that German and possibly Italian state and federal labour laws were successfully used to secure improved working conditions including the right to collective bargaining?

4) has Amazon at any time, including the present used "fire the bottom two" forms of ranked performance management?


In Amazon’s early days(pre Twitter obviously) there were plenty of warehouse workers who could have written far better tweets that sound less Borg Collective-y


What do you mean? Are you saying that Amazon warehouse employees were treated better back then? What makes you say that?


It was pretty hard(physically) back then, even before simple tilt tray sortation equipment.

Everything was manual.

And zero air conditioning in the first early generation distribution(now fulfilment) centres.

Hiring, even in distribution(fulfilment) operations, had quite a high hiring bar.

This was done to help develop the near future Human Resources capacity of the company.

So we had an inordinately high % of Amazon Associate stock pickers with undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Quite an eclectic and quirky bunch of quite over educated folks doing a lot of manual labor trying to get the orders out the door and not drown in them.

It was a much much smaller company back then.

We were just trying to survive the never ending need to get customer orders out te door and “average up” with each new hire.

Intellectual capacity per person was quite high, but our operational execution would be far lower than what is achieved today.

We were failing/learning as we were going.

More exploration, less exploitation(in the process sense).

Exploitation as an employee wasn’t a problem in the early days from my perspective.

We all knew what we were getting into. 100% commitment and acting like an owner.

As headcount exploded, individual understanding of Amazon’s mission, ethos, etc declined as it become more job-like, and less purposeful.

Growth rate compelled hiring more specialists and less multi-purpose generalists....who could write non Borg Collective like Tweets.

I guess what I’m saying is the culture in the early days was more like a pirate ship full of idiosyncratic individualist buccaneers than Borg.


If someone wanted to prove how social networks can be used to manipulate the stock market, this would be an excellent mechanism for doing so. Set up a bunch of droid bots for your competitor and then watch the press eat them alive.


Do they engage in conversations that would make it possible to tell a human from a chatbot?


Well that's not creepy at all. Tweets read like they're written by a PR agency. Never known a near-minimum-wage warehouse worker who answers tweets with turns of phrase like "On the contrary..."


I live in Vermont, running an open source Patreon project that isn't designed to maximize capital. I know lots and LOTS of minimum wage or near-minimum-age people, and a good selection of much wealthier people. Right now I'm substantially below minimum wage as a sole proprietor, but managing it. Obviously I cannot hire in these conditions, so I don't.

I see NO correlation between that and intelligence, verbal proficiency, articulateness: indeed, if you're smart enough to recognize the obvious purpose of the exercise you'll self-edit until you sound even more like a PR agency, lest you have to return to picking boxes full-time rather than getting to compose tweets for part of your time.

One caveat: if you're poor and desperate, your bandwidth will be taxed (see 'Scarcity: a talk for people too busy to attend talks'). That doesn't compromise people so badly that they appear unintelligent and uneducated, though, and if it's your job to seem glib and intelligent you'll work at it.

tl:dr; do you seriously assert that poor people are too stupid to write and speak well? I sure hope not.


No, what I was trying to say is that an average actual non astroturfing warehouse worker wouldn't answer questions like a trained PR lackey. Read the tweets, the sentence structure, phrasing and uniformity in writing styles between supposedly distinct individuals is obvious.


What do you think Amazon's requirements are for this paid position, and do you think they would be sloppy and tolerant of bad performance here and nowhere else?

Anybody doing this is already a good speaker and writer, and understands what's expected of them. Otherwise they wouldn't be allowed to do it. Again, I know large numbers of poor people who are perfectly capable of this erudition.

If you've got a masters in English Literature, it's probably this or Wal-Mart or death.


How could any professional in this day and age think that this could possibly work?


The cheapest bid agency that Amazon would hire, clearly.


That'd be chatbots, Bob.


For this use case, Mechanical Turk seems cheaper


You should see the scale of similar manipulation efforts that exist on Reddit. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of accounts that completely overtake a sub to drive a certain viewpoint. Any decently intelligent person can see what’s going on but I’m afraid there is a large number of people who are non the wiser. I’ve seen this sort of social manipulation on a grand scale across numerous large online publications with yahoo news being the worst offender.


Some of the posts I've seen here pushing serverless or AWS are not far off this.


It's like they're all wearing the happy helmets from Ren and Stimpy's "Happy Happy Joy Joy".

Are there similar PR initiatives within Amazon engineering aimed at us?


From my experience - not particularly, but unless you work at AWS and get media training, Amazon engineers are heavily discouraged from discussing the company on social media.

My contract also explicitly forbid me from talking about any technologies in use within the company, up to and including programming languages. That might just be an artifact of the time and place that I was hired, though, as the company definitely grew much more open over the years.

I've been out of Amazon for nearly three years (after working there for eight) and I still find myself reflexively being nervous about what I say!


And they say AI will not destroy jobs. Automated astro turfing and PR. Cutting out the middle-man, going straight from sender to consumer. No need for "news".


>Their most frequent topics of conversation are how they get bathroom breaks, the pleasant temperature of the warehouses, the excellent benefits and suitable wages, friendly management and how the job isn’t monotonous or tiring at all.

In other words, they took a list of everything everyone complains about, and just decided to refute them point by point in the most condescendingly Orwellian way possible, rather than fixing them, because "disagree and commit" and I guess "frugality uber alles."

Sounds about like Amazon, yep.


...it sounds like they did fix them? People used to complain about not getting bathroom breaks and unpleasant temperatures. Either they're lying, or they did fix those things and are informing people of it.


>...it sounds like they did fix them?

Kind of to a point.

People get bathroom breaks, but those count against your rate, and people do sometimes get written up for taking them, although that's as much a matter of Amazon encouraging ruthlessness in management as anything. I know of one anecdotal story of a worker who was apparently written up for the time it took them to clean up after their own nosebleed.

In the FC where I work, the temperatures are definitely not pleasant, but HR insists we simply aren't aware of how perfect the climate control is.

I think it's one of those things that depends on where you work and who you work under.


Somebody complained about the heat on the board* a while back, and the site lead said it was up to code. They have their network-wide internal standards. I forget what the ceiling for acceptable temperature is, but it gets pretty hot in the summer, especially if you're doing inbound. I don't worry about heat-related injuries or anything, but I wouldn't call it comfortable.

* What is it, Voice of the Associates? Something like that. It's a big whiteboard in the breakroom. You write down your login and a message for management/IT/HR and they write a response.


Ya, that seems like the most reasonable explanation.


> it sounds like they did fix them

On what basis? All we have is PR talking points presented, deceptively, as genuine opinions of real employees. That doesn't seem like evidence.


If you're accusing them of lying, that's fine. But what you claimed was that these are just talking points "instead of" fixing the issues. So, they are claiming they fixed the issues. Are you claiming they are lying about that?


This is a really weird line to take. Obviously by "rather than fix" he means fix and demonstrate. Otherwise, why is is up to anyone but Amazon to prove that they have fixed the issues? You are misdirecting the burden.


Plenty of untrue statements are asserted as fact in good faith and without intention to deceive. Asking for evidence is not the same thing as an accusation of dishonesty.


Um, what? These people are representing themselves as employees of Amazon, who work in these factories. Unless they are lying about that, then they are in a position to know. Therefore, if they are making an assertion and it is untrue, they are lying. This isn't that complicated.


Is it possible that two employees at an Amazon facility might disagree about the ideal temperature of the facility?


Sure, but whether or not they get bathroom breaks is objective.


No. Different people have different opinions as to whether they get enough bathroom breaks.


You added a word there. The prior claim was that they didn't get them, fullstop.


> what you claimed was that these are just talking points "instead of" fixing the issues.

I didn't say the words you quoted.


[flagged]


Please don't go there, unless you have evidence. Internet discussions don't do well after this card is played.

This is in the site guidelines btw: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Why aren't these being banned from Twitter as "inauthentic"? They're clearly propaganda tools and are coordinated disinformation campaigns.

Are there two sets of rules here?


This is standard social media PR - fail to see what the issue is. Brand ambassadors that promote the business have been common for a very long time.

Nothing to see here.


You're probably right. Maybe the distinction is that Amazon has gotten a lot of bad press about its warehouses so the cognitive dissonance felt by the observer is more pronounced.


[flagged]


The difference is a shill hides their affiliation. These accounts are all clearly marked as being from Amazon. How is it any different from the various $Airline_Cares accounts on twitter that reply to customer complaints about bad service?


One of the "Ambassadors" responses from the article:

> "I can safely say that none of MY ideas have panned out anywhere near what Jeff Bezos has accomplished."

The most one can hope is that this is a bona fide Tweet from an employee who-- for whatever reason-- desires to self-deprecate in a completely voluntary, unremunerated defense of the company they work for during their off time.

Because if this is a PR drone posting self-deprecating statements in the name of an actual employee that's pretty humiliating behavior.


This is really fascinating. I want to know about the culture of the person who authorized this. They seemed to be lacking essential cultural norms for north america.

Some questions I'd start asking are:

-Have they ever been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder or some type of high functioning autism?

-Are they from a third world country? Do they lack social norms we'd typically associate with people's attitudes about working in a factory?

-This this real life?

It's such a damaged artifact of modern de-industrialization. I really need to know why this is a thing...


I diagnose Amazon itself, as a corporate person, with borderline personality disorder :)


Ok, so who’s pointing a gun at anyone’s head and saying you HAVE TO WORK at an Amazon fulfillment center? This isn’t slavery, it’s free will. Slavery, at least in civilized countries, ended CENTURIES ago! I could delve deeper into the psychology that leads to feelings of entrapment, but I won’t. As humans, we need to get over ourselves. Work is hard. Life is hard. But it can be rewarding too, so long as you stop playing the victim.


Economic freedom only starts at middle class and above. (Like when your family can risk $300.000 for your online book store)

For the poor, you are free to choose your boss (and agree to obey thus sign away your freedom) or sink deeper into poverty and eventually starve to death...

Though there is no gun involved, I would not call this freedom.

But a kind of freedom which (thankfully) still exists is the freedom to reach out to others. So why would you oppose people that use their freedom to push back against obvious mistreatment (in this case by spreading the word)?


Workers are allowed to criticize and push back against poor working conditions. That's how the labor market is supposed to work. If workers are just expected to sit there and take what is given, then capital holds all the cards.


> Work is hard. Life is hard.

Why not ensure work isn't too hard, nor life, nor going to the doctor. And then not just for you, but for everyone.

> But it can be rewarding too, so long as you stop playing the victim.

That's blaming people for the situation they are in without knowing what caused it. Maybe the causes should be addressed.




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