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Amazon warehouses are ‘cult-like’ sweatshops run by robots: ex-employee (nypost.com)
29 points by dsr12 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 18 comments





This feels like an overly negative article. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like the author was unhappy with some pretty innocent things - stretching, being instructed how to bend in a way that doesn't do long-term damage, having managers that emphasized staying hydrated, having to wear gloves to handle the merchandise. Other things seem like the normal shitty reality of manual labor jobs - she complains that her 1 month on the job crippled her, but I didn't really understand how it's worse than any other manual labor job.

I'm sure there's some valid problems in there, but she's so hyperbolic that it's hard to tell what is and is not worth listening to.

> I soon learned that only difference between an Amazon warehouse and a third-world sweatshop were the robots

I'm going to guess she's never actually seen a third-world sweatshop.


Article is ruined by sensationalism, but I’d expect no less from the NY Post. It is a shame because I am sure there are real issues with Amazon warehouses, but choosing an employee who took a job they are not physically capable of doing and then focusing on her really detracts from the story.

Complaining about the cult-like “great place to work” brainwashing? Welcome to all of corporate America...


She was an EMT, I doubt she lacked the physical acumen. I've done jobs like this, they are hard but not physically, you have pallt jacks, tools,etc... To do the really hard stuff (bots in this case).

So, what I really don't get is their breaks policy. Why not have more break areas? Why not let people take a lot of breaks, so long as their performance metric is on point?

As far as the corporate koolaid, all of corporate america isn't like that. You certainly won't hear managers bad mouthing the company but a lot of good environments, they don't repeat propaganda like phrases again and again. Even if they all mean the same thing they say it in their own way. Like for example they'd talk about their experience and what they have seen first hand that corroborates the corporate message to workers. And in some places, dissent (non-toxic but productive) is encouraged so workers feel like their voice matters.

At the end of the day happy workers have best ROI. You can acheive good ROI regardless but there will be long term costs.


>Why not have more break areas?

Break areas don't generate revenue. FCs are designed around efficient product flow first, people second. If employees have to waste fifteen minutes of a half hour break walking to and from the break room as a result, then they can just walk faster. But not run, that's a safety hazard.

>Why not let people take a lot of breaks, so long as their performance metric is on point?

Actually... they did just roll out a program that lets people take a minute break every 45 minutes or so, without it affecting their metrics. So that's something.


> Break areas don't generate revenue. FCs are designed around efficient product flow first, people second

Neither do toilets. You literally set a side a small room with table, chairs and Microwave. There is a lot of things that don't generate revenue but you do them anyways to prevent revenue and reputation loss. Like security guards,cameras,parking lots,etc... These things support the people and process that generate revenue. If walking to a breakroom is 2 minutes (4 total) the employee has 26 extra minutes now, they can slack off or get back to work faster and be more productive and less tired and frustrated (less mistakes). Either way that's 26min work isn't being done so there is no loss in revenue.

And yeah, kudos to them if that's true. It's easy to pick on Amazon but your run of the mill warehouse job is always worse and pays half as much


They skimp on toilets too. They tend to skimp on anything they can legally get away with - "frugality" is a company mantra, after all.

And you're right, they could afford to be more flexible with employee time and productivity might rise, but that's just not their culture. Their culture is that employees are responsible for meeting expectations, no excuses. If they want productivity to rise, they just raise quotas and crack down on time off task. They complain about the cost of the pain medication employees use from the dispensary. They abuse trialware because they don't want to pay for the licenses. That's just who they are.

This is a company that will assign you to indefinite six day, twelve hour weeks if business needs call for it, but will complain if you're a minute late from break. It's possible that bad press or not wanting to be the Democrats' straw villain in 2020 might cause policies to drift in a more progressive direction, though.

>It's easy to pick on Amazon but your run of the mill warehouse job is always worse and pays half as much

That's true. To be fair, the base wage is extremely competitive in most markets for entry level work, and the health insurance is really good, and most people aren't peeing in bottles and the like. But even then, "it's not literally the worst possible job" is kind of damning with faint praise.


If you've seen my bathrooms here, you would change your mind. Some of them have 3 stalls (for women), and others have too many for me to remember. I'll be sure to count them one day though. >There is a lot of things that don't generate revenue but you do them anyways to prevent revenue and reputation loss. I wholeheartedly agree with your point here. If people actually have time to take a break, they will be more productive than without a break at all.I've heard some of my coworkers say if they want to hit a certain goal, they would need to skip their 2nd or 3rd break. But I'm proof that this theory is false. My rate from 1st period to 2nd period increased dramatically after taking a full break.

> choosing an employee who took a job they are not physically capable of doing and then focusing on her really detracts from the story.

Only, she's middle aged and has a life history of hard work. She comments about this being young people's work (taking a weird swerve to diss menudo; my least favorite detail in the article) -- but the awful truth is that young folk who take jobs like this suffer that wear and tear later in life.

> Complaining about the cult-like “great place to work” brainwashing? Welcome to all of corporate America...

There's variation in this -- some employers focus on making their workplace a positive experience; others require their managers to proclaim that it's a positive experience during onboarding. The latter is common to cults and bad jobs.

But more importantly: even if something is common, that doesn't make it good. It just means that the problem is harder to tackle.


Very good point here. I started at age 26, which by her standards is too old for this job, and no one could tell the difference between my age and a 20 year old. >some employers focus on making their workplace a positive experience; others require their managers to proclaim that it's a positive experience during onboarding I've never heard any of my managers say this is a great place to work. Some might be enthusiastic, and others might do things for us, like start a potluck every month. Overall, I'd say my managers all did well when I worked under them.

The point of the article seems to be to warn people that they are not physically capable of doing these things and to explain the human toll of a job like this.

Why so sensitive to Amazon?


Because people work day and day out shitty doing shitty manual labour without people even noticing them. Having worked there fur very long the whole article is just big whining, for some reason Amazon warehouses is a popular subject.

And those people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity too.

We do get treated with dignity and respect. In my FC I have never felt like i wasnt. I have great relationships with all my associates. I feel like some many news articles go for negative attention and Amazon is an easy target for people to report on and get lots of attention.

The article only told a side of the story that makes Amazon look like a bad place because one person didnt like working in a warehouse. The irony is that while I honor her perspective and hold some relation to her experience, I cant help but feel she lost out by quitting so soon. It took a few months for me to fully adjust to working here. It had been awhile since I had a job working on my feet, but I never felt like the actual labor was hard; just more like repetitious and not much of a challenge. In a months time you will be trained well enough to keep pace and avoid any write up. Then you can transfer roles if need by or work your way to some type of advancement. Thats what I did, I found a role that fit me, but my regular role is tough for some, but mostly by preference.

Picking and placing items into these cubbies at a rate of 12/minute for 10 hours... tracking performance down to the individual item placed... Obviously this is not really a job fit for for a human.

How long until robots can reliably do the stowing for the majority of items?

Or to alter the problem, why not require packaging to conform to certain standards such that robots can do the job today?

$16/hr - let’s say $24/hr fully loaded - placing 600 items in a hour would be a marginal cost for this stocking task of $0.04/item.

If Amazon was willing to tolerate $0.05/item for this particular task along the pipeline, that would translate to 8/minute items shelved instead of 10/min. $0.06/item comes out to 6.66/min (again assuming a fully loaded cost of $24/hr).

Adding just $0.02 of packaging obviously cannot eliminate this job, so automation which required certain packaging would be quite wasteful.

What I don’t quite understand is why the job has to be so breakneck. I wonder if they are limited by the number of humans who can be in the plant at once, meaning it’s not a question of hiring more humans. Or perhaps part of the issue with breaks is if they are limited by law to how many unpaid breaks an hourly worker can take? Otherwise I can’t see why they would care about breaks as long as their algorithm can capacity plan by adjusting for your average break-rate.

The only reasonable explanation is they have an expensive asset (their fulfillment plant) where the humans are the gating factor to the total output (deliveries) and an equation where at some point adding more humans actually decreases total output.

None of this is to excuse creating a system which requires humans to perform tasks in this manner though.

Amazon ships ~600 million packages per year, so assuming a human touches each item 10 times on the way in and out, spending an extra $0.10/package makes those human’s jobs significantly more tolerable, that’s only $60 million on Net Income of $10 billion...

But again that calculation only works if shipment volume can be maintained with more humans doing slightly less work each. If shipment volume falls a corresponding amount because stocking goes from 12/min -> 10/min (16.66%) then Amazon loses an extraordinary amount of money.


>What I don’t quite understand is why the job has to be so breakneck.

The faster stowers, counters and pickers work, the more money Amazon makes and the faster Amazon makes it.

It's as simple as that.


So I work at an Amazon fulfillment center and I experience is really different. I can go to the bathroom when ever I need and get 2 thirty min breaks one of which is paid. We have fans in the FC the only time i ever get spoken to about going to the bath room is when i make a conscious decision to talk to my friends at other at stations and I take for ever to get to my station. I dont know how other FCs operate but not of this article resonates with me...

Its weird how amazon receives more hate from the media than china which utilizes actual slave labor on a mass production basis.



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