Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Six Months at an Amazon Fulfillment Center

Posted by M. C. on December 9, 2019

Yes, we worked, but we had fun also.  When you discover your cart has a scale model of the U.S.S. Indianapolis beneath a pile of plush shark toys, you know that someone else shares your warped sense of humor.

By Christopher Knight

Having spent half of a year experiencing firsthand the labyrinthine bowels of an Amazon Fulfillment Center, I must ask:

“What are all the complaints about?”

Employment at Amazon was not perfect.  Then again, no job will be.  But for those wanting to establish themselves with a job history or get back into the routine of full-time employment, being at Amazon isn’t the torturous ordeal some have described.  Coming off a year’s sabbatical and being a technical writer before that, work at an Amazon facility was a shining opportunity to regain some lost footing.

In retrospect, I can’t but be thankful for that.  It wasn’t just the financial boon, but also the chance to persevere that elicited and encouraged growth and strength in both physical and mental senses.

Getting hired by Amazon was almost too easily achieved.  Applying online hearkens back to the glorious days of spinach-green Game Boy screens.  Pass a series of ridiculously simple mini-games and you are almost guaranteed an offer of conditional employment.  Show up for a scheduled orientation a few days later and there’s a rundown of various tasks, basic processes, and of course the benefits.

Speaking of benefits, they are more than liberal for an operation of Amazon’s size and scope.  Need time off?  The company is fairly flexible about that.  Employee discounts?  Offered out the wazoo.  Want to follow your dreams toward your one true career?  Stick around for a year and Amazon pays for most of your school tuition and books.  Want health benefits?  You get ‘em, your family gets ‘em, your dog gets ‘em.  The pay itself is better than average.  The one perk that I saw employees constantly begging for but were forever denied was free Amazon Prime.  And that’s no reason to gripe if it’s the worst that the corporate honchos refused to grant.

After that came the training: straightforward and comprehensive.  It could be the most fluid and forgiving training regimen that I’ve seen.  The learning curve was not particularly demanding, and new hires were given leeway as they gained a sense of their assigned tasks.

Every night’s shift began with everyone in the department doing “stand-up”: gathered around the supervisor of the evening,  we were given a brief summary of the night’s work, a rundown of any issues, and encouragement about what to look forward to during the next several hours.  A few stretching exercises and then it was off to the races.  For the next ten hours we were on Jeff Bezos’ time clock.

Is the labor hard?  At times, yes.  Especially during “Peak Season” between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.  Otherwise it’s much like… gasp!… real work.  My schedule was Wednesday through Saturday nights, 6 p.m. until 4:30 in the morning.  There were two fifteen-minute breaks and one unpaid half-hour for lunch around 11.  The break room had six large-screen TVs and forty microwave ovens.  The vending machines were loaded with enough confectionary to feed a Texas county…

My stowing during those first few weeks?  Abysmal.  In fact, I was the very worst of the lot from our orientation group.  Getting fired would be a decision born within the circuitry of the Amazon master computer somewhere in Seattle, not any human judgment.  My career came a few steps too close to ending during that first month or so.

Instead the managers on site approached me with concerns about my performance, and then worked with me to improve my effectiveness…

Safety was the highest priority issue at our facility.  I believe it is much the same for other fulfillment centers.  During every stand-up we were drilled with how to properly handle heavy merchandise so as to avoid injury.  The “safe” routes of transit across the facility were clearly marked off: stay in the green and you’d be fine, but venture into the lanes delineated with red and you risked being hit by a forklift or other vehicle…

What truly earned my respect was how they accommodated a disability.  For a decade and a half I have dealt with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.  Mania and depression at times dogged my steps during those long traipses through the aisles as I worked.  The average Amazon warehouse is so vast that at times two people can be a hundred feet apart with no clue that there are others in the building.  And every so often the silence and sense of loneliness would intrude upon my labor.

So I told my managers about it.  And they collaborated with me…

Amazon, we were told by managers themselves, isn’t likely to be a lifetime career for most people.  And it doesn’t have to be.  Six months after orientation I had been quietly told that I was being eyed for a management position.  Instead they bid me all the best as I prepared for a rewarding career helping others with mental-health issues.  I don’t know if that would have happened were it not for the time spent working at Amazon.  And hey, I worked through an entire Amazon Peak Season with no time off.  I can be proud of that accomplishment.

First steps are rarely glamorous.  But more often than not they lead to a much better and brighter future.  And when a person reaches that place, he or she can look back upon the oftentimes broken road that came before.  And then revel in the sense of their own achievement.

That’s something that no “easy” job can grant a person.  Or any handout for that matter.

Be seeing you


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