Amazon Requires Badly-Paid Warehouse Temps to Sign 18-Month Non-Competes

The Verge has broken an important story on how far Amazon has gone in its relentless efforts to crush workers. Despite its glitzy Internet image, Amazon’s operations depend heavily on manual labor to assemble, pack, and ship orders. Its warehouses are sweatshops, with workers monitored constantly and pressed to meet physically daunting productivity goals. Indeed, many of its warehouses were literally sweatshops, reaching as much as 100 degrees in the summer until bad press embarrassed the giant retailer into installing air conditioners. In Germany, a documentary exposed that Amazon hired neo-Nazi security guards to intimidate foreign, often illegal, hires it had recruited and was housing in crowded company-organized housing. Amazon also fought and won a Supreme Court case to escape compensating its poorly-paid warehouse workers for time they spend in line at the end of shift, waiting for security checks.

Amazon’s latest “keep workers down” practice is to make temps sign non-competes. Yes, if you are so desperate and foolish as to take a short-term gig with Amazon, you will be barred from working for virtually anyone else for the next eighteen months. Look at how incredibly broad the language is in the non-compete agreement obtained by The Verge (hat tip MF):

During employment and for 18 months after the Separation Date, Employee will not, directly or indirectly, whether on Employee’s own behalf or on behalf of any other entity (for example, as an employee, agent, partner, or consultant), engage in or support the development, manufacture, marketing, or sale of any product or service that competes or is intended to compete with any product or service sold, offered, or otherwise provided by Amazon (or intended to be sold, offered, or otherwise provided by Amazon in the future) that Employee worked on or supported, or about which Employee obtained or received Confidential Information.

Pray tell, what possible employers are not included, given how sweeping these terms are? A cleaning service? Nah, Amazon sells Roombas and vacuum cleaners, so you’d be competing indirectly with them. A receptionist in a dentist’s office? Nope, Amazon sells tooth whitening products. A massage therapist? No, Amazon sells electronic massage devices. Working as a gym? No, Amazon sells home exercise equipment. And note that this includes “intended to be old, offered, or otherwise provided by Amazon in the future.” Amazon temps are precluded from competing with Amazon vaporware too.

Not only is this agreement eye-poppingly broad in terms of product/service range, but Amazon also means for it to be far-reaching from a geographic perspective. From the Verge account:

“Employee recognizes that the restrictions in this section 4 may significantly limit Employee’s future flexibility in many ways,” the agreement asserts, referencing the section containing the noncompete agreement and three other clauses. “Employee further recognizes that the geographic areas for many of Amazon’s products and services — and, by extension, the geographic areas applicable to certain restrictions in this Section 4 — are extremely broad and in many cases worldwide.”

Now I have my doubts as to how much success Amazon would have in enforcing this contract in a lot of non-US jurisdictions. But the Seattle retailer goes to great lengths to turn a short-term warehouse gig into a bar to future employment. Consider Verve’s description of this provision:

The contract — which was obtained through applying and being accepted to a seasonal Amazon warehouse position — even includes a provision that requires employees who sign it to “disclose and provide a true and correct copy of this Agreement to any prospective new employer […] BEFORE accepting employment[…]”

The intent is to create a captive pool of Amazon temps, who will be forced to accept whatever crappy pay and conditions the retailer offers by virtue of being barred from virtually any other job.

Verge said it was not able to determine whether Amazon had attempted to enforce these captive labor agreements, but pointed out that the company had been extremely aggressive in pursuing non-compete case against white-collar employees. And some, perhaps many, of the workers who are aware of these clauses do feel the need to obtain consent, which at a minimum creates an obstacle to getting hired by a new firm:

Lee wants to continue her seasonal work at Amazon, and because of the noncompete that she’s signed, she would be careful if she were to apply for a second job at an Amazon competitor like Sam’s Club, the wholesale subsidiary of Walmart. Lee says, in this hypothetical scenario, she would be clear with the hiring agents at Sam’s Club about the noncompete she’d signed at Amazon and would also contact Amazon to ask for permission for working at Sam’s Club.

In the story, Lee bends over backwards to present Amazon as nicer than WalMart, which is a low bar, and to stress that she’s grateful for the holiday work. But it’s not hard to see the implications. It’s hard enough for low-wage candidates to land an offer. The notion that a prospective employer will go through the hoops of obtaining consent seems unlikely, particularly since many temp or short-term gigs want the candidate to start immediately. It’s easier to rescind the offer and pick the next in the long line of applicants. And even if the prospective employer has the time and inclination to obtain Amazon’s consent, Amazon can refuse to give it, or achieve the same effect by being really slow in providing it.

Verge describes how practices like this feed the growth of McJobs and accelerate the rush to the bottom in work conditions:

In this way, noncompetes can exacerbate structural inequalities in the current job market, inequalities which themselves make noncompetes easier for companies to demand. In America’s post-recession economy, job seekers continue to vastly outnumber openings for good jobs. In this setting, workers don’t have much leverage when haggling with employers over terms and conditions of work. One effect of this has been the expansion of the so-called “gig economy”, where apps like Uber and TaskRabbit draw on a pool of freelancers ready to perform quick jobs that become available with no attendant promise of benefits or job security. Large numbers of unemployed and underemployed have also fueled the boom in temp-agency staffing that has accounted for significant portions of the country’s post-recession job gains.

A lack of negotiating power can lead workers to sign noncompete contracts, [Orly] Lobel [a professor of labor and employment law at University of San Diego] says, and those contracts further erode their negotiating power. Because noncompetes make job loss more perilous by limiting post-employment opportunities, the agreements can tether workers to their current job, making them less likely to address grievances with management or attempt to look for better or more fitting work. says, and those contracts further erode their negotiating power.

Even though a labor lawyer who reviewed the agreement questioned whether it would be enforceable, given how short a temporary role at Amazon would be versus the post-employment restriction, and the lack of employee access to trade secret information, they are likely to have a chilling since a low-pay worker who understood the reach of the agreement could fear incurring the wrath of Amazon.

It’s time to boycott Amazon. Tell your friends to shun them. It’s time to recognize that the supposed neoliberal paradise of cheap and easy shopping comes at the expense of workers, and hence society as a whole. You pay for what you get, and stumping up for better conditions for employees means spending more. Take your business from Amazon and give it to more ethical retailers.

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  1. craazyman

    Jezus H. Christ this is bad. What two-bit legal chump of a twit at Amazon carved this little fecal jewel of stupidity and contemptibly unctuous derision of the human person? Personally, I won’t use Amazon unless absolutely necessary — i.e. obscure math books, but only a few over the past year. Other than that — nada.

    People can’t look into their minds and say “No.” No I won’t do this, no I won’t participate in this. No I won’t enforce this, No I won’t acquiesce to this. No. No. This is contemptible. No.

    It reminds me of some final words written by the late American poet Charles Bukowski. He wrote, nearing the end of his life, what he had learned from the experience of living. Not much, he said, but one thing, one huge thing stood out: “Learn to say No” he wrote. Of course, he wrote it better than I just did.

    Fuck you Amazon and your petty bullshit abuse of vulnerable and defenseless human beings. Fuck your grinning self-satisfied smug missionary zeal for “the customer” no matter how much indignity you foist upon nameless and faceless labor to buff and shine your executive stock price and option pay-days like a shiny apple from Satan. Fuck your “innovation”. It’s not innovation. It’s devolution. And I don’t want to be a customer of anybody that would do what you do. I think of you and I just say “No” (other than the math books, to be honest, my conscience isn’t completely clear, I admit, but hopefully I’ll get sent to a high rung of hell where there’s at least a little AC to cool things off.)

    1. Jim Haygood

      You know what the late Chas. Bukowski would’ve done. He would have drifted on to the next gig, just as he always did. And if some amazon lawyer sent him a warning letter, he would’ve used it as a coaster for his ever-full wine glass, as he composed a new poem about what a-holes they were.

      Not many warehouse workers would have the resources to defend themselves against a corporate law suit. But courts regularly, on the basis of equity, throw out overly-broad non-compete agreements. Amazon knows damned well that any attempt to enforce this blunderbuss of a contract would fail. All they can do is try to extort settlements before trial. That would be the time for any ex-employee actually facing litigation to start a legal defense fund.

    2. Clive

      Well said Mr. (or is it Sir?) craazyman. I myself had an epiphany (I’m hoping that is a real word and that the autocorrect spelt it right for me) this Christmas after internet-ordering a microwave oven from a supposedly ethical partnership company.

      The item had clearly been dropped somewhere in the supply chain. When I signed for it, I noticed a corner of the packaging was badly crushed and there was an ominous rattling sound when I shook the box. In a store, I would have smelt a rat, but on my doorstep, in the cold, caught at a bad time, I just scrawled on the dotted line and accepted the goods. When unpacked, all that remained was a smashed, tortured ensemble of plastic and steel. It was the Tiny Tim of microwaves — poorly, broken and forgotten by the world. But still it tugged at my heart.

      The whole sorry saga occupied my mind for days, like I was in an odd parable for our times. It was beyond a simple case of crappification, there were too many questions needing answered. Who dropped it ? Who knew it was dropped ? Why didn’t anyone do anything ? Why was it no-one’s job to care ?

      Maybe it was some pee’ed off Chinese worker extracting their revenge passive-aggressively on the unknown and unknowable end customer who had enabled their exploitation. Perhaps a supernatural incident at sea wrestled with the container — not unlike what happened when the Nazis stole the Ark of the Covenant in that Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. Maybe it was at the “fulfilment centre” which was probably only related to the company which “sold” the item via a second cousin thrice removed outsourcing contract. Maybe it was the delivery “company” (which was actually a single mum using her own 7 year old station wagon as a “delivery truck”, and who, I established over the course of this debacle, let me in on the secret the she was forced to use her garage as a storage facility, uncompensated, to layaway items which were shipped to her by the courier and her vehicle, which she had to provide and for as a condition of her — zero hour contract — “employment” and for which she was paid the minimum laid down by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for personal hire of vehicles) who either didn’t know about or couldn’t afford to resolve the situation.

      Maybe it was God Herself sending me a message, a bit like the three kings from the Orient, but this time around merely bearing consumer durables. And instead of the Messiah, all they got was me — not bringing salvation to the world, but only possessing a selfish desire to warm a frozen jam rolly polly in three minutes.

      All I knew was, from that moment on, never, ever again will I order anything online. If there’s misery and debasement in the supply chain, I at least want to view the last leg of it myself. That way, it’s harder to ignore. What was so bloody wrong with going to a store and dealing with a real, live, human being anyway ?

      1. hunkerdown

        Crapified human beings with no interest in me except as a purchase object, amputating their humanity to read from a script to please their boss who is recording them for quality assurance? Is that really better?

        On the other hand, just perhaps seeing it up close would be enough to discourage one from partaking of commerce, which is probably a good thing all round.

      2. craazyman

        well Clive looks like this one was a false alarm. good thing we didn”t kick them down to hell just yet! that would have been bad, the guilt and remorse, the sefl-flagellation, the crucifying examination of conscience, the reliving the kick in the mind over and over and over like a bad dream fixed in eternity, asking “Where did it all go wrong?”. always good to take a few deep breaths and think about it before letting the leg fly.

        I don’t know about that box.. It could be all sorts of things. Maybe some body was sick and wanted to go hhome and the box fell and they picked it up and didn”t know what to do. Then they put it on a table and tried to get a supervisor, but the supervisor was in the bathroom and then the worker fainted and fell right on the box. Then they called an ambulance and picked the worker up off the box but did’t realize wat the box was! Jesus. Then somebody on the next shft came in drunk and threw the box in the loading bin, which was about to load it’s last box on a truck waiting to go. They thought they were doing somebody a favor! Getting onn that day’s truk and not the next day’s.

        It gets complicated. That’s why they say “Vegeance is mine sayeth the Lord.” To keep the leg in place while people figure shit out. Oh well. Not buying something from somebody isn’t quite like kicking them. It’s just a little gesture, a little movement of the knee, in their general direction.

      3. jrs

        Ad the store all you see is the retail, the finishing steps, it’s often the manufacturer that is exploitive, of course (those slave laborers in China). Whereas online you can sometimes buy from more ethical manufacturing than you could get in the stores.

        1. Clive

          Yes, that’s what I thought (the cooperative partnership I ordered from bangs on about its ethics) but it turns out the the new economy allows for several new layers of exploitation to be tacked onto the supply chain.

    3. craazyboy

      I’ve always wondered how a noncompete can exist at the same point in the space-time continuum as the “Right to Work State”. Seems like matter and anti-matter to me. Wouldn’t it just explode or something???

      1. Carla

        Well, it’s logical: noncompetes and “Right to Work” both provide the Right to Work for LESS.

    4. Brooklin Bridge

      A jewel (from the other end) of a comment. I hope you are on to something with that AC extension.

    5. sgt_doom

      Not too worry, Amazon received a $600 million contract with the CIA, ostensibly to develop Cloud operations for them — although they already have other companies doing the same — around the same time, Amazon announces it will be adopting drones for home deliveries. For a moment it appears to be a bumpy road ahead, but then Amazon easily sails through the FAA, and testing is to begin. What better way for the CIA to do domestic surveillance at the neighborhood level, the with sensor and cam-mounted drones, all done “harmlessly” amid home deliveries from Amazon?

      1. hunkerdown

        Issue canvassing? I strongly suspect that there are intelligence operatives embedded in high places in field offices. Bonus: using false consciousness to derail true consciousness, using politics as cover to interfere in politics.

  2. B. Examiner

    In America’s post-recession economy, job seekers continue to vastly outnumber openings for good jobs. In this setting, workers don’t have much leverage when haggling with employers over terms and conditions of work. Verge

    A generous Basic Income Guarantee would make employers have to compete* for employees. Besides, robots will eventually disemployee most humans anyway. What then? A vast purge of the “useless eaters?”

    But yeah, I’ll boycott Amazon the best I can just as I boycott Walmart the best I can.

    *I was once offered a job at Walmart because I offered to help a female worker move something. Turns out she was management. She laughed, refused my help and offered me a job. I laughed because I don’t need to work for a living** and walked away.

    **Yet I DO work anyway, being useful the best way I can. Go figure, ye who think we all need a job/jawb.

    1. Ben Johannson

      A BIG is likely to drive wages down, given government transfers will make up the difference. Employers would be less responsive to workers than they are now.

      1. B. Examiner

        The rich will work for a $1 a year or for free (volunteer) BUT the what, where, when, how and how much are up to them since they don’t NEED the money.

        Similarly, a financially independent population will have a lot more leverage wrt to work conditions.

        And I dispute your point about wages. Walmart and McDonalds workers are paid so low not because of the help they get from Food Stamps, Medicaid and other government assistance but because that assistance is TOO LITTLE to allow them to be unemployed. A generous BIG would allow them to be unemployed and thus force employers to bid up wages and working conditions UNLESS those jobs can be outsourced which many cannot be.

        1. Demeter

          The rich work for a dollar a year to avoid all payroll and income taxes. It’s not from the goodness of their hearts or anything….

        2. skippy

          The corporatist wrote the laws wrt to labour…. Free to Work et al.

          That you have structural unemployment as a IR buffer as espoused by their chaired academic sock puppets…. is a bit of a tell imo.

          Skippy… with prices being administered a BIG is just a secured revenue stream in perpetuity… aka a feed lot.

        3. Ben Johannson

          The rich will work for a $1 a year or for free (volunteer) BUT the what, where, when, how and how much are up to them since they don’t NEED the money.

          Doesn’t have anything to do with the topic of capital/income ratio.

          Similarly, a financially independent population will have a lot more leverage wrt to work conditions.

          A populace dependent on a permanent living wage handout is not financially independent, it is always vulnerable to the whims of America’s conservative culture. Cuts to welfare payments will be an annual event as demagogues bang the “moochers and looters” drum. Once those payments are cute sufficiently to force the willinglu unemployed back to work we’re r8ght back where we started, except thejr skills have so deteriorated they’ll have virtually no chance to find paid work.

          And I dispute your point about wages. Walmart and McDonalds workers are paid so low not because of the help they get from Food Stamps, Medicaid and other government assistance but because that assistance is TOO LITTLE to allow them to be unemployed.

          No business reduces wages paid because public benefits are reduced.

          A generous BIG would allow them to be unemployed and thus force employers to bid up wages and working conditions. . .

          There is no reason to think significant numbers will choose unemployment willingly. To the contrary research into unemployment tells us virtually all Americans want to work. BIG advocates ignore cultural and social realities incompatible with their income scheme.

          1. B. Examiner

            A populace dependent on a permanent living wage handout is not financially independent, Ben Johannson

            Then let’s have a Steve Keen style universal bailout and redistribute the agricultural land and the common stock of all large corporations equally among the population. All three are Biblically justified so conservatives can go hang.

            To the contrary research into unemployment tells us virtually all Americans want to work. Ben Johannson

            You’re conflating work with having a job and neither requires the other. Yes, people like to work but they generally hate working for others except for the security [sic] of a steady paycheck. So let’s give them that steady paycheck (via equal shares in all large corporations) and whatever else they may need such as their own land to work and/or work on.

            1. Ben Johannson

              . So let’s give them that steady paycheck (via equal shares in all large corporations) and whatever else they may need such as their own land to work and/or work on

              All we have to do for the BIG is have an American socialist revolution? That’s a recipe for maintaining the status quo indefinitely. I don’t support unrealistic fantasies, I support helping people now and the BIG won’t do that. Americans approve of work and disapprove of welfare; anything which ignores this is self-defeating.

              1. B. Examiner

                I support helping people now … Ben Johannson

                A Steve Keen like* universal bailout of the population would help the entire population NOW and without price inflation risk if combined with restrictions on new credit creation and metered out such that the new fiat just replaces the net destruction of bank credit as it is repaid for no net change in the money supply.

                What say ye to that?

                *But done fiscally by the US Treasury using the platinum coin option or equivalent.

                1. Ben Johannson

                  Won’t effect a rise in real wages, a shift in national income or reduce income inequality. I say there are a number of people out therr determined to pursue band-aid policies which don’t address the real issues.

                  1. B. Examiner

                    The bailout and new credit restrictions could continue till all demand deposits are 100% backed by reserves. At that point, a new Postal Savings Service could start accepting deposits and it would be announced that government deposit insurance for the banks would soon be ended. That would trigger a massive run on the banks but no problem since all demand accounts would be 100% backed by reserves.

                    Much private debt would have been eliminated without disadvantaging non-debtors, even in real terms, and the government-backed counterfeiting cartel for the sake of the rich at the expensive of the poor would have been abolished.

                    Will you call that a band-aid too?

                    Real wages you say? How does paying people to waste their time (else the private sector will complain of encroachment on their turf) NOT produce price inflation and thus REDUCE real wages?

                  2. B. Examiner

                    And please note that even with a full 100% reserve requirement for new loans, bank lending could proceed as usual since the universal bailout of the population should provide the new reserves needed for such loans. And if not, due perhaps to excessive saving preference among the non-debtor recipients, then the amount of the metered bailout could be increased to provide additional reserves (but carefully since then price inflation becomes a risk) to drive down interest rates.

                1. jrs

                  Who knew that W is a populist in retrospect? At least the $700 went to ordinary people, which is more than can be said of QE.

                  1. B. Examiner

                    “QE for the population” would allow QE for the banks to be reversed since the new fiat given to the population would provide the banks with new reserves with which to buy back the stuff (MBS, etc.) they sold to the Fed and which then might be profitable even at par price. And the more new reserves that are “sterilized” thusly, the more additional new fiat that can be given to the population without price inflation risk.

              2. hunkerdown

                If Americans disapprove of welfare, they aren’t interested in any help you have to offer. (I know you meant social assistance, but I think the plain meaning of the term is more in line with the prevailing sensibilities.) If they refuse to graduate from high school, screw ’em. Leave the soulless, sadomasochistic twits to a quick and merciful end at China’s hands.

          2. hunkerdown

            I wonder whether those respondents are more fearful that their employer or fellow slaves would have them on record as no-good slackers, which could have a very real effect on their income, or whether they’re really just that hollow and broken.

          3. jrs

            Skills don’t actually deteriorate that fast, “skills deterioration” is just an excuse not to hire the unemployed and search for a purple squirrel. Even if people were offered a job unless it was the exact position they were in before the “skills deterioration” charge could be leveled – ie a job guarantee wouldn’t solve it.

          1. Larry B.

            As I read that article the guarantee was a supplement to wages, not something that you got regardless of income. In this case it’s not at all surprising that wages would decrease, after all it wouldn’t hurt the laborer at all. What would be amazing is that anybody would work at all.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              It was effectively a means-tested guarantee. You could get the full amount if you did nothing, but even then, most peasants did not like the idea of getting handouts unless they needed them (ie, they could not make ends meet).

          2. B. Examiner

            Conceding your point about wages till I’ve fully digested that article, I don’t see how a JG is an improvement over paying a potential worker NOT to work for someone else and thus depress wages. Is the point of a JG to PHYSICALLY require the presence of the worker for 8 hours a day so as to PHYSICALLY prevent her/him from working for the private sector and thus PHYSICALLY prevent her/him from driving down wages? If so, then there are surely less onerous ways to accomplish that while still allowing the worker to work for himself on his own land, for example. Or is the real goal of a JG to DESTROY labor (much like milk dumping in the 1930s) to keep wages up?

            1. skippy

              I feel a chill like a ghost strolled through the blog….

              Anywho, we live in a reality where only people that work have value [thanks PIE], all others are lessor, tho property ownership [land] is the apogee of said value ladder [creator mimicking] labour input or not. It should be noted that when one takes in the entirety of sociological data, group activity’s [works are not necessarily about individual value, but communal, shared responsibility].

              As such countless generations have been indoctrinated in this sociological conditioning, as such, for individuals to secure their self esteem and for their fellow citizens judgments, it is a critical behavioral identifier. E.g. for someone not to work is akin to passing lower status and lower rights, sort of the same problem – stigma the un – underemployed already suffer.

              Skippy… wages are low because bargain power was ruthlessly diminished to enrich a small percentage of society all whilst productivity went parabolic.

              1. B. Examiner

                Anywho, we live in a reality where only people that work have value … skippy

                You’re conflating work with having a job, ie. working under someone else’s direction. Work is good, a job not necessarily so.

  3. PlutoniumKun

    It seems to me that rather than necessarily being a predatory company, Amazon have found themselves in a trap of their own making. From my understanding of the economics, it seems that Amazon along with other online sales companies are finding that the cost of delivery is stubbornly high and is undermining their ability to undermine bricks and mortar stores. The ‘con’ behind big box retailing was always that they could provide superficially low prices by making the consumer pay in time and fuel to do the distribution and selection work for them. Amazon is finding that you can only make a profit selling online if you can persuade people that the convenience is worth paying a premium – and it would seem this is not the case. People are balancing up the convenience of getting something through the mail, with the security of going to a shop to actually see what they are buying, and they are not convinced in all cases it is worth it unless the online product is significantly cheaper. So it would seem the future model of retailing is a fine balance between stores where you can touch and sniff what you are considering buying, and various delivery options. It may be that Amazon may turn out be a dead end in retailing, as out of date as corner shop groceries.

    1. ambrit

      Witness to that the steady ratcheting up of the “shipping and handling” fees charged on e-bay, etsy and like sites. At the small end retail world, that dollar added to the shipping and handling fee makes all the difference between being a vendor or not. Unless you get lucky and find a Utrillo cheap at the thrift store, nickel and dime is the basic business model.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        The rise of internet sales has certainly had a benefit in evening out prices worldwide. I’m in Ireland, and it used to be painfully expensive to buy anything specialist, such as electronics or cameras. When Amazon came along and started selling cameras it nearly wiped out camera shops (for one thing). But now the prices have evened out, and I’ll often be able to negotiate a price even lower than amazon from my local shop – and I have all that extra service behind it.

      2. hunkerdown

        eBay sellers used to shift the price of their product into shipping, because the eBay take on shipping charge was lower than the take on sale price. The same thing may be happening with Etsy. For what it’s worth, Amazon pushed its vendors’ shipping costs down on the back end by micromanaging the shipping process and supplies.

    2. Michael

      I follow a similar logic. I primarily use Amazon for supplements that are not easy to find and new/used textbooks. I’ll buy a supplement at a local store if the price is close to the Amazon price. I’ll ignore the 15% off from the subscribe and save function but a lot of supplements on Amazon are cheaper than my local store. The reverse is true for larger items.

        1. EmilianoZ

          I made my first swansonvitamins order a few weeks ago, remembering you had recommended it. Prices were actually better than Amazon’s. I was worried that it would take a long time to ship since their headquarters are in N. Dakota and I live in DC, but it actually shipped from Pennsylvania so that was very fast. Every item came in its own separate Ziploc which I found a bit wasteful, but I recycled them. I was even able to buy tea from them at a better price than Whole Foods. So I was very satisfied with Swanson, thanks for recommending them. But I dont know how they treat their employees.

          1. Anthony with Swanson

            Hey all,

            Thanks for the positive words on our company’s product selection and price.

            I’ve worked at Swanson for nearly 8 years. It is one of Fargo’s largest employers and overall a pretty great place to work. Some of my favorite perks for employees are the ability to get any of our 20k+ products at a deep discount and an onsite gym with personal trainer that is open to all employees and their spouse/kids for 24/7/365, with a free personal trainer on hand during the day hours.

    3. Brooklin Bridge

      I think the detachment is misplaced even if your correct. The point is Amazon’s inhumanity to it’s work force and that is not -or should not be- an axiomatic outcome of a mistaken business strategy.

    4. Jeremy Grimm

      One more reason to stop purchases through Amazon. Retired Postmaster Mark Jamison identified Amazon as one of the villains in the efforts to privatize the USPS.

      Amazon has some sort of Negotiated Service Agreement (NSA) with the USPS. The terms of the agreement are secret but they appear to give Amazon special priority for their parcels over Priority parcels and at a reduced rate since Amazon uses Parcel Select, which costs significantly less than Priority and usually takes several days for delivery. Amazon get special Sunday delivery for their Parcel Select. FedEx and UPS also use Parcel Select for their huge contracts with the Postal Service for the last mile of their low-price shipping category. Given the secrecy of the contracts and agreements involved it’s an open question whether Amazon gets priority over FedEx and UPS and what sort of preferences all their large companies get over the more expensive deliveries for Priority which small businesses use for their rush deliveries.

      The article at:
      is nowhere near so well-written as Postmaster Jamison’s essay posted here earlier. The secrecy around Amazon’s NSA leads much of the article to rest on speculation and circumstantial evidence. The sum of that speculation combined with todays post on Amazon’s hiring contracts and practices compels a most damning judgment of Amazon.

      Amazon’s “trap” is no trap. Amazon is using its deep pockets to drive out smaller competitors. Amazon is also working hard to share their costs for consolidating monopoly power with the rest of us by tapping into the Post Office deconstruction. It appears they raised costs to smaller firms for priority service and the evidence suggests they successfully degraded the more expensive Postal service available to these small competitors.

  4. John Dickens

    This covenant is overly broad in time and geographic scope. And it is unlikely that the employee is exposed to Amazon’s trade secrets, etc., as a warehouse worker. As a result, this will not be enforceable in many, even most US states. And Amazon’s lawyers know it. However, no warehouse worker will be able to fund a defense if Amazon tries to enforce, so it does the job even tho likely invalid is many states.
    The interesting question for me is why would Amazon even think about imposing this clause on workers. If it is as you say, to create an ecosystem of workers who believe they can only work for Amazon, the sleeze factor is over the top. Could there be any other reason?

    1. Lotterypick

      I had occasion to look into employee non-competes a number of years ago. While the law regarding them is largely State law, many States required compensation paid to the employee for not taking another job in the field. Compensation was not considered wages paid for performing the present job; the ex-employee had to be paid a good fraction of previous wages for a non-compete to be honored. Non-competes back then were strictly for high-level jobs. Courts would throw the entire non-competes out if a clause was found onerous. These days I find harsh boilerplate language in many contracts. There is a growing absence of civility.

  5. TJ

    Overzealous legal department….

    “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
    Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2

    1. Carolinian

      Undoubtedly this idea came from the top. Bezos is a bit of a wacko who thinks quadcopters can deliver packages and is building his own spaceport in Texas. And of course he also has had great success–despite Amazon’s low profit margins–although arguably much of that success is a result of gaming the tax system.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Crazyboy would have a better handle on it, but the energy required just to get one of those things off the ground is significant, never mind to make it fly -no matter how insidious or benevolent the mission- for any length of time. Add any weight to that beyond a paper clip and it gets my interest almost inspite of my loathing for the motives behind it. These things are going to have to be huge!

        I can tell you right now what really really really makes it all possible and it’s only partly high tech; it’s the compliant media that won’t even peep when the accidents -with people’s heads literally rolling – occur (not to mention the non accidental accidents). And as Jim Haygood points out, Bezos has paid his dues with the WaPo. The insanity of wasting that kind of energy on consumption as oceans rise is mind boggling.

        1. hunkerdown

          Seems that Bezos throwing around his domestic- and foreign-policy muscle, and his labor discipline muscle, has more to explain the quadcopter scare than anything to do with technology. Remember, these are exactly the kind of “middle-class jobs” Obama wanted…

          1. Brooklin Bridge

            Agreed. It is technology in the service of evil. But make no mistake, the technological aspects are not trivial. And the colossally decadent expense of energy should it ever get anywhere near off the drawing board would be it’s own form of hell. Something tells me Bezos won’t get to share the AC unit Crazyman talks about though that doesn’t do much in the here and now.

            1. hunkerdown

              Oh, no mistake, the technological aspects of doing telekinesis the long way around are not unfamiliar to me, and I know they’re not *very* well solved yet. But the subtle threat of even a machine that doesn’t work very well (yet), to be piloted under the orders of a famously skinflint oligarch, might give pause to those who dare ask to take their humanity with them past the security checkpoints.

              I suspect even full-time hedonism is more efficient than consumer addiction.

        2. Ian Ollmann

          Yes, but in the end you don’t have to pay to feed, clothe, medicate and house the quad copter or his family. Nor does it weigh as much as a 6000 lb. delivery truck. Electricity is cheap and I am sure Amazon gets low, low rates! I wouldn’t be surprised if drones work for less than minimum wage.

          Make no mistake, the robots will be working for “us” some day, even if we won’t be working. Cue Hoover, with electoral promises of a helipad on every roof, or at least for the 1%. While we count down to rotor-nirvana, you should focus on earning money to become financially independent while you are still employable. If you succeed, you can welcome our new robot overlords with glee and a box cutter! Otherwise, you can live on a fly-over street and no presents for you!

    1. Vatch

      Thank you, Demeter, that’s good news, but I’m not ready to relax yet.

      Amazon also fought and won a Supreme Court case to escape compensating its poorly-paid warehouse workers for time they spend in line at the end of shift, waiting for security checks.

      Amazon needs to fully compensate their warehouse workers for time waiting for security checks. I don’t care whether the Supreme Court says that this is legal. What Amazon is doing is immoral.

      I’m also wondering how hot it must become in the Amazon warehouses before the air conditioners turn on in the summer. What’s the thermostat setting? It doesn’t matter whether there are air conditioners if they are never (or rarely) used.

      There are other on-line retailers, as well as plenty of brick and mortar stores, where people can buy products.

    2. Carla

      It’s good news that Amazon apparently heard the screaming about their non-compete clause. However, that doesn’t make them into good corporate citizens. I avoid buying from them whenever possible. My only exception is (wedding/baby) gift registries of people who live in a city other than mine. There, the convenience factor is just too great to ignore. However, in the case of purchases for my own household or even members of my extended family, I am actually happy to pay more to a local retailer and do so regularly. I like to keep in mind “the high cost of low prices.”

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      That does not rescind it for workers who have already signed agreements. It’s merely prospective: “Amazon is to remove…..” and we don’t even know when. Maybe after this Christmas season?

    4. hunkerdown

      Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even thinking of doing that, let alone calling the house counsel to draft that thing, is an attempted crime against humanity. Were I to *try* to pop Bezos, I’d get popped for an attempt; why are we letting corporations off the hook to try again so easily, unless we actively want the outcome without the responsibility?

  6. LAS

    Some business elites are beyond ridiculous these days. “or intended to be sold, offered, or otherwise provided by Amazon in the future”. Who the heck would know this? The claims are absurd.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, the agreement is still in force for workers who signed it in the past. And Amazon was not clear as to when they’d cut the clause in new agreements. The idea that they have agreements at all for temps is insane.

  7. Jim Haygood

    Amazon’s billionaire owner Jeff Bezos owns an MSM outlet, the Washington Post.

    Boycott the WaPo … two birds w/ one stone, yo.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      It does make sense. If you’re going to rip people off on a global scale, it’s good to have a hand in the monopoly that clothes thugs as rock stars.

  8. Jerry

    Editor———–All of this text appears twice: “Because noncompetes make job loss more perilous by limiting post-employment opportunities, the agreements can tether workers to their current job, making them less likely to address grievances with management or attempt to look for better or more fitting work.”

  9. alex morfesis

    non enforceable non compete

    just because it is in writing does not make it enforceable…the state of washington, like many states, has case law requiring reasonableness and CONSIDERATION…keeping your job is not considered “consideration” and an “at will” employee is further protected from these toilet paper non competes…the question here is why are not stock analysts tracking…GOGIRA…GODZILLA…i mean amazon…asking about creation of liabilities by a law department running in a circle chasing its tail…high turnover leads to unhappy campers who might wake up one morning and bite back with a class action lawsuit after they are fired…or let go…a large firm like “I am a zoeohn” (greek – zoeohn = animal) not only does not get a pass, but is easily shown to be legally liable as they would have hired tall building law firm to create this toilet paper, creating an unconscionable contract, opening up liability since the tall building law firm “knows better”…most firms will not attempt to actually spend a real dollar in court to enforce the non competes unless the employee is some sales person directly targeting existing clients that were obtained with the resources of their former firm, or if they bring in some “magic potion” information from the previous firm to the new firm, and again, go after existing clients…but realistically, there is no “magic potion” information anymore with the arpanet…B/I (before internet) there were thousands of small trade publications with market data that could be obtained only by having a corporate address…today, most of these trade publications have an internet based information platform and the data, names and stats they used to send out in a small (5k to 25k) circulation is now out there for anyone to see…these toilet paper non competes are just to scare the children on Halloween…

  10. NoniMausa

    In a peculiar way, this sort of attempted policy is a hopeful thing. Does Amazon expect their ocean of little fishes to become more scanty in the foreseeable future? Are they trying to preemptively secure their minions? Do they see a change coming up?

    Okay, I don’t believe a change in labour availability, and thus bargaining power, is ahead, certainly not in the next 18 months. And any industry secrets which an entry level minion would have, could hardly be worth the bother of protecting.

    Another peculiarity — suppose the policy held up, suppose Amazon hired people and then didn’t need their services, and those people couldn’t take employment elsewhere? Wouldn’t that make Amazon responsible for their wellbeing? Would their restrictive agreement satisfy the social services beaurocracy that no, Mrs. McCarthy can’t legally take other employment, therefore she qualifies for food stamps and Medicare? That would be the conclusion in any sane, compassionate country — i.e. one where this policy wouldn’t be allowed, in the first place.

    Having said all that, I’m gonna boycott the Big A anyway. Jerks.


    1. NoniMausa

      On further thought, the trade secrets part might be intended to prevent staff from talking about their workplace, pay, conditions, complaints and so on in any way at all. A back-door crushdown on any bad publicity, or any organizing activity.


  11. sid_finster

    At least in North Dakota, that covenant is flatly unenforceable. The only question would be whether Amazon would get slapped with sanctions and fees if they attempted to enforce it.

    New York, I’d have to look.

  12. Brooklin Bridge

    It’s time to boycott Amazon. No kidding!

    Hitchcock’s movie, Birds, seemed a little corny at the time, but then I didn’t realize he was just foreshadowing the arrival of the flowers of high tech and the attendant dense swarm of digital things flying around that they require.

    I bought one book at Amazon when it first came on the web and realized immediately I was kissing my local bookstore good bye. No, I didn’t see all the permutations, I just sensed bad sh*t. My contribution to that evil, along with any large scale entity flowering on the web, has been small, but my amazement at the sheer power and single mindedness of the force that grabbed hold of high tech and the parade of people spellbound by its song has been boundless. Regrettably, other than this curious ability to actually sense evil in these entities, I have little to brag about. I even developed software at one time that may have contributed to the nightmare. The shame that sticks around like a rash though, is that vote for Obama.

    1. Ian

      Though a Canadian, I too, was roped in by the carefully constructed lie that is Obama. That is until I came across this site. You don’t know what you don’t know. Thank you NC for opening my eyes.

      1. Clive

        Indeed, I watched Obama’s first inauguration here in the U.K. — I can still remember it vividly — when the procession went down that (whatever thoroughfare it is in front of the congressional buildings) I and a couple of family members who were watching with me said to ourselves somthing along the lines of “thank goodness we’ve got someone decent in charge of the U.S. now”.

        All of which goes to show, you can fool, if not all of the people, at least a good many people, some of the time. Still, at least I can’t claim to be on the committee which picks out Nobel laureates for the Peace Prize.

        It was, coincidentally or not, about a year or so after that I became a regular Naked Capitalism reader…

    2. Carla

      Here’s the benefit of having voted for Obama once: he cured me of EVER voting for another Democrat for President, no matter what. Good job, Barry! Too bad so many hundreds of millions worldwide have to suffer for the sake of my enlightenment, though.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Hard to keep up my pure negative energy with such positive thinking! ;-) and since you are not at all alone in that enlightenment, it is a nice thought to enjoy with my morning cup of doom.

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        @Carla We’re getting a little off-topic:
        I think you want to register as a Democrat and vote for candidates in the primary — if there are any decent candidates to choose from. After the primary either vote third party, or I think it might make more sense to vote for at least one person or initiative on the ballot and omit voting for any candidate where no decent candidate is on the ballot. I believe — but still need to confirm — that your ballot would be counted, as would your votes for any persons or initiatives. This is one way which I think might enable a vote of ‘no’ for all the candidates for any position for which no suitable candidate is on the ballot. A large number of ballots and a small number of votes for certain candidates should start to raise questions about the legitimacy of whoever gets elected.

        I’m not opposed to a third party, but I tend to agree with Domhoff’s analysis which concludes a successful third party bid for power is highly disadvantaged by our winner-takes-all political system. [Reference:

        1. hunkerdown

          By voting third party, you can disadvantage and disentitle both major parties with one stroke. The question is, is that far enough, or is representative government (the King, er, Constitution) fatally flawed? (I know this is a dangerous question to ask of someone who’s been in the service, but it’s very important to know exactly *what* one has sworn allegiance to.)

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      I’m with you! No more Amazon purchases.

      I may still use Amazon’s reviews and to get ballpark prices. I have had luck finding a vendor on Amazon and then contacting the vendor directly. It will be hard to stop even this limited support for Amazon. Buying from local small business is becoming nearly impossible. There are empty storefronts all over and the new business that come in — if any — have all been franchises. I feel all right buying from some small franchises but many of the franchise stores seem to be owned by a parent corporation rather than small business person.

      1. hunkerdown

        Granted, you can’t trust that the price they’re giving you is related to the product more than your psychographics, but by all means burn their cycles as a reference. It used to be fairly common to browse in the showroom, buy at Amazon, but that trend has apparently reversed in some quarters. I do about the same with Newegg and the local PCs-and-components retailer.

  13. marin

    “At least in North Dakota, that covenant is flatly unenforceable. The only question would be whether Amazon would get slapped with sanctions and fees if they attempted to enforce it.

    New York, I’d have to look.”…. Of course, this kind of over-extensive contract would be fully illegal in quite a number of decent countries. Including mine of course.

    I just how Amazon just dares to push this kind of stuff.

    Bonne chance à tous

  14. Eduardo Quince

    Highly unlikely that any court would enforce such a broad and onerous non-compete clause.

    1. Katniss Everdeen

      And what’s the penalty? Amazon jail? You must quit your new job? Wage garnishment ? Cut out your tongue?


    2. Yves Smith Post author

      If someone sues you, it’s $15K in most states to get rid of the suit, even if it is spurious.

      Think most Amazon temps can afford that?

  15. XRayD

    Amazon will sue ANY successful business started by an ex-Amazon employee 18 months after leaving … presumably if the business ever succeeds and competes with AMZN directly in the future.

  16. Anon

    I’ve started buying from Barnes and Noble. But have no idea if they’re engaged in noxious practices too.
    Anybody have info on this?

    1. Carla

      Here’s another source for online purchases (books, new and used, only): Free shipping with no minimum purchase. They don’t have everything, but after my local, independent bookstore, I check Better World Books next.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        @Carla — Thanks! Just checking though — is Better World Books independent from Amazon? I recall buying some used books from them through Amazon’s used books.

        1. Carla

          It’s possible that Better World Books sells through Amazon (as many booksellers do) — I’m not sure. But it is not owned by Amazon. Here’s a little bit from their About Us page. For more, go to

          “Better World Books uses the power of business to change the world. We collect and sell books online to donate books and fund literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than 8 million new and used titles in stock, we’re a self-sustaining, triple-bottom-line company that creates social, economic and environmental value for all our stakeholders.

          We were founded in 2002 by three friends from the University of Notre Dame who started selling textbooks online to earn some money, and ended up forming a pioneering social enterprise — a business with a mission to promote literacy.

          We’re not a traditional company with an add-on “cause” component. Social and environmental responsibility is at the core of our business. You could say it’s in our DNA.

          We’re breaking new ground in online bookselling. We believe that education and access to books are basic human rights. That’s why books sold on help fund high-impact literacy projects in the United States and around the world. That’s why we commit to matching every purchase on our website with a book donation to someone in need – Book for Book™ “

  17. Garrett Pace

    Am I not correct in saying that these intimidating non-competes are de rigueur for companies nowadays, “best practices” for the smart MBA set?

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Probably, but a branding iron would be a lot more efficient and straight forward. These MBA’s are too wrapped up in high tech and all it’s legal niceties to benefit fully from our rich rich and recent history.

  18. PeonInChief

    The problem is that those of us who don’t live in the major metropolitan areas often can’t get basic products at all except online. Products available at any corner drug store in San Francisco are entirely unobtainable 90 miles away. That said, I pay extra to order from somewhere other than Amazon–anywhere other than Amazon–if I can.

  19. ian

    That non-compete is unenforceable and is pretty standard boilerplate. As much as I don’t like some of Amazons other practices, it’s hard to get worked up over it.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Whether the non-compete is unenforceable or not is of less importance than whether it is effective. It certainly acts to put a chill on those looking for jobs after Amazon.

      Is it possible to bring a stop work injunction against a former employee based on the agreement? If so, Amazon might lose their case but their former employee could wait a while for that to happen and get a guaranteed black ball for being rehired at Amazon.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I take it you’ve never been sued. It still costs money to get a spurious suit dismissed. From what I can tell, it’s at least $10,000 with all the hooplah unless you manage to get a friend and family rate from your attorney, and easily $15,000 if the other side pulls out the stops on procedural tricks.

      1. ian

        And how many people has Amazon actually sued?
        I’m not defending them, but I’ve seen similar clauses in employment agreements I’ve signed over the years. They aren’t that unusual.

  20. Ulysses

    “The intent is to create a captive pool of Amazon temps, who will be forced to accept whatever crappy pay and conditions the retailer offers by virtue of being barred from virtually any other job.”

    Very well said! I think the intent, more broadly, of the transnational kleptocrats here in the early 21st century is to make 99.9% of us their captives, one way or another!

  21. kevinearick

    The Sea of Galilee: Hate Chemistry

    You are going to run into hate. Whether feudalism or immobility is the cause or outcome is irrelevant. The critters haven’t been turning the planet into a desert for thousands of years by accident. Let the haters hate each other, while you get on with life. The critters had crappy equipment before WWII, and they have crappy equipment now. That’s feudalism.

    The Fed has eliminated downside RE elasticity, and Congress has eliminated upside income elasticity, economic mobility, relative to each other, as instructed. After several generations of breeding stupidity, there is no sense in expecting anything else. Replacing engineers with H1B1s, who could just as easily be replaced with computers, and replacing everyone else with low skill immigrants, trying to escape the same, isn’t a change of course, from natural resource destruction, with debt, to create artificial scarcity.

    In chemistry, the stumbling block is always titration, where the rubber of theory hits the road of reality. They didn’t test all those bombs because they understood chemistry, and they don’t have a stockpile of radioactive waste because they understand physics. University has always confirmed feudalism, with poverty created for the purpose.

    When you run the first titration, run it quick, to get you in the ballpark. Then run it quick and pull up before your last titration reading, and add drops. On the third run, decrease the volume of drops to titration. Forget time. You want to get a feel for how different solutions react. The mistake most students make is trying to become experts in specific titrations, losing sight of the forest for the trees, instead of understanding titration.

    The moneychangers have been at this for thousands of years, and what do they have to show for all the make-work? Even now they waste their time arguing about whether money, debt, in any form, is a store of value or not. There simply isn’t anything in the empire worth buying, for debt. Drugs and welfare do not an economy make. Who gets up in the morning to chase debt, expecting a better outcome?

    Put first things first and last things last, and everything in the middle will take care of itself. Funny, insecure HR personnel will leave you messages stating that you must respond by a certain time if you want a make-work job, crack me up. If the whole point of HR is to convince you that you are a commodity and it is financial capital that is rare, in a world obviously awash in financial capital, increasingly trying to fit in the eye of a needle, what do you suppose that means?

    Talking heads don’t work, and spend all their time trying to prove that they do, with numbers, words and technology created for the purpose. Government is nothing more than inertia, loading a spring, of whatever tensile strength you care to design, but go ahead and prove otherwise. Its problem is drugs, for which its answer is always drugs, a problemsolution.

    Long before entering public education, I learned to build my own equipment, and leave behind whatever I no longer needed, for my family to steal. If you haven’t noticed, the planet isn’t negotiating. It doesn’t care whether you hate yourself or others. Likewise, labor builds, carries and drops gravity, as a counterweight. Because you do not see an economy on TV, an i-phone, or a watch doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

    1. kevinearick

      Because their parents stole from your parents, and they are trying to force you to carry them across the goal line is no reason to get emotional. Feudalism exists for a reason. It’s just gravity, which has its uses.

  22. Working Class Nero

    Well Amazon is standing on the shoulders of worker-exploiting giants. Their no-compete clauses echo the strategies used by landowners in Russia, who back between the 13th and 15th century played a similar game with pre-serfs. The peasants were required to work a landowners land all year but only during a two week period at the end of the November did they acquire a sort of free agency where for a stiff fee they were allowed to switch landowners and go work elsewhere. Over time this technical mobility was continually reduced until full blown serfdom was eventually imposed on the peasants.

    1. hunkerdown

      I contend we only need to go back comparatively few decades to the second Industrial Revolution.

  23. Nortino

    I worked low wage jobs through temp agencies in the late 80s/early 90s which is when temping really took off.
    I remember being required by a major temp agency to watch a company video (off the clock of course) before I was sent off on any jobs. The video instructed temps not to discuss their wages with other employees.

    It wasn’t until many years later that I realized it is actually a violation of national labor laws (NLRA) to forbid employees from doing that. Of course, corporate America has workers indoctrinated pretty well to make such discussions “taboo”.

    The NLRA was enacted in 1935, at the height of the Great Depression. It was the whole start of the union moevement. Can anyone imagine legislation like this being written today? How about making non-compete agreements illegal? Yup, I know. Not going to happen in this day and age.

  24. Aussie F

    Presumably any overseas jurisdiction (previously known as a sovereign state) ignoring Amazon’s agreement will be subject to US military intervention?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please see my other remarks. “Unenforceable” means you won’t win. But whoever is sued would need to spend money making that legal argument. An unopposed suit would win a default judgment. How much money do Amazon temps have to fight a suit by Amazon?

  25. cnchal

    The intent is to create a captive pool of Amazon temps, who will be forced to accept whatever crappy pay and conditions the retailer offers by virtue of being barred from virtually any other job.

    Vewy intewesting. It seems to be a two part strategy, with the above being part one, and part two being the simultaneous reduction of the available supply of labor for Amazon’s competitors.

    Well played Amazon!

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