These narratives were assembled from oral and written contributions from Employees J, K, and L, three individuals with recent Amazon warehouse work experience. All three provided general information, while K related the personal experiences appearing in today’s episode and J yesterday’s. Employee L contributed editorial suggestions to both parts. All three employees reviewed the final draft for accuracy and fidelity to their experiences.
I’d like to start out by emphasizing that the thing I found most unique about Amazon was their extremely impersonal management style. Getting the job was shockingly easy. No interview – just watch a video telling you how the work is hard but rewarding, then chew on this drug test thingy for 90 seconds or whatever. Wait a couple months, boom, you’re hired. Most of us were hired through temp agencies – I was different, I signed up with Amazon directly, but they still had me stop by the temp agency. So you didn’t have to have any formal qualifications – but at the same time, it was striking how many of the workers had college degrees.
Leaving the job is easy, too. During orientation, they told us we can quit any time we feel like it and they hope we decide to do other things with our lives besides work at an Amazon warehouse. I’ve heard that us getting hired through temp agencies makes it easier for them not to pay us unemployment if they fire us, but I don’t really know how that works.
If people work there long enough (like 14 months or so) they even sometimes get offered cash bonuses ($2K or more) to quit. It might have been because it was getting close to the time when, if they got laid off, there would have been a legal obligation to pay them unemployment. However, the managers told us the reason was to make sure everyone who was there had a good attitude. In any case, we could definitely be treated worse – I’m pretty sure that Amazon’s competitor WalMart does NOT make these kinds of offers.
I hardly ever see my manager – just a few minutes per shift, plus if my pick rate ever falls too low, I might have to have an awkward conversation with a human about it. There are very few managers per worker, and although I’m not certain, I don’t think they get paid much more than us. Each year, without fail, the whole managerial staff is replaced.
It’s impressive how the job is organized so as to make time pass more slowly than in any activity I’ve ever participated in. It’s sort of like how time slows down when you go running. Or like being trapped in a room with no air. Or…
Honestly, that’s not a helpful way to deal with it. Better to avoid thinking about time, avoid thinking about my life, and in general avoid thought.
The meaning of the series title
So why is working for Jeff Bezos better than sex, but worse than hell?
Well, it’s better than sex because there’s no interpersonal conflict, it’s freely available to anyone who wants it, and it’s even more intensely shameful.
As for being worse than hell, maybe you’ll understand once you complete the same task 50,000 times with a scanner monitoring everything you do.
I’ve met a lot of cool people working here.
A woman from New York told me that back in the day, “when the men ran things,” things were more chill, but “now, with all these women in charge,” the rules are enforced and things suck. I tried to think of something to say in response, but couldn’t come up with anything.
A black lady I knew was working both a nine to five job and the night shift here in order to make extra money. I’m not sure how she functioned this way, but she seemed to manage.
Until she didn’t. She finally got so sick from lack of sleep that her daughter had to call an ambulance. She ended up losing all the extra money she made by working two jobs instead of one.
A couple had been working together at the warehouse, and when peak season ended, one of them was going to get fired. The random algorithm decided that it would be him, not her. She went to HR and pleaded for them to let it be her, since given everything their family does, it would work out better if he was the one working. They were like, sorry, if we were ever to buck the algorithm, it would set a dangerous precedent.
Some people here have worked in other warehouse jobs, and they say this one is worse. Talking like that pisses off one of my more muscular coworkers. “If you don’t like your job, quit!” he declares. “If you don’t like your life, kill yourself!”
What I learned
I needed money to pay off my debt load, and Jeff Bezos came through for me. He provided me with honest hard work where I could earn a salary in line with other warehouse jobs.
I admit that with all the questionnaires and the cameras, I did sometimes feel like one among many of Jeff Bezos’ pet human psychology projects, working for His amusement and curiosity and not just His profit. Maybe I’m only thinking this because I recently watched this speech He gave at Princeton where He said He thought we’d “decode” the human brain soon. That sort of creeped me out.
But I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Life doesn’t owe you anything. As a wise man once said, if you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t like your life, kill yourself.
Note from Naked Capitalism: No, don’t! Don’t let bastards like Bezos win. If you are getting worn down, talk to someone, ideally in person, such as the Samaritans or a church or someone you know.