Amazon Worker – Welcome To The Machine

November 22, 2018

Welcome Amazonians. It is always Day 1. Are you ready to make a difference?

It was my first day as a seasonal Amazon worker, hired just prior to peak season. Our site operations manager was like many Amazon managers: an ex-military white male, in his late 40s and wearing straight-fit jeans and a T-shirt with “Amazon Military” emblazoned on the front. He drew a line alongside an inverted pyramid, writing “least important” on the bottom and “most important” higher up, with the word “customer” scrawled along the very top.

“Where do you think Jeff Bezos sees himself on this chart?”

Silence. He points to the bottom of the pyramid.

“Jeff sees himself as the least important person in the company. What this company cares about is the customer promise, and putting our customers first.

“Where do you think our associates are?”

Silence.

“Here! Jeff sees you at the very top! You, the associates, are the closest to the customers. It is up to you, every day, to uphold our customer promise. As front line associates, you are the most important part of this company!”

As I headed to our training session wearing my new orange associate work-vest and wearing my white badge designating me as a “seasonal” employee, I was approached by a co-worker in a fancy, blue and green-lined “Ambassador” vest and a blue badge that signified he has been “converted” to a non-seasonal Amazon worker.

“Did they give you the pyramid crap?”

I nodded.

“That’s a load of shit.” We laughed, but I wasn’t quite sure I understood.

“Welcome to Amazon,” he said.

Through the use of digital trackers and indicators, our workday is managed down to the second

The inverted pyramid has stuck with me as an Amazon fulfillment associate. In some ways it’s on point. It’s important to take a step back and realize what an Amazon fulfillment center really is. Prior to Amazon, the sale of stuff largely took place through physical stores. Enter a store and there can be dozens of employees, stocking shelves, managing the check-out counter, controlling inventory. The pace and rhythm of the day, at least compared to fulfillment centers, can be relatively relaxed.

At Amazon, by contrast, we are not retail workers. We are factory workers.

A single fulfillment center can contain 1,500-2,000 full-time workers, stowing, picking, packing, unloading, sorting, palletizing and delivering hundreds of thousands of items every day. Centers are filled with the whirl, grind, and moan of conveyor belts, the incessant drone of a forest of Kivabots moving shelves.

We work hard, and diligently, to make Amazon run. While our collective efforts produce astounding results, we are supervised ever more intensively. Through the use of digital trackers and indicators, our workday is managed down to the second, with each task timed based on a “rate” set by managers who push us ever faster. Work is often organized to keep workers from talking or even taking breaks, with this time considered “off-task”. Like factory workers on the assembly line, we are essentially extensions of the machine.

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