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Amazon warehouse workers fired if goals aren’t met

4 April 2012

The next installment of an ongoing hit job on Amazon in the Seattle Times:

Amazon.com strives to be increasingly efficient to ship customers’ orders as quickly as possible from its fulfillment centers around the world. And while the company has a safety record better than most, some warehouse employees say the relentless drive to boost production wears them down and costs them their jobs.

. . . .

On an average day, 51-year-old Connie Milby covered more than 10 miles in her tennis shoes, walking and climbing up and down three flights of stairs to retrieve tools, toys and a vast array of other merchandise for Amazon.com shoppers.

She filled online orders for more than a decade, working through summer heat and winter chill inside the company’s south-central Kentucky warehouse.

One constant was the pace that Milby tried to keep to avoid write-ups from her supervisors that could put her $12.50-per-hour job at risk.

“At my age around here, there are not very many other opportunities to make what we make,” Milby said before beginning her 6:30 a.m. shift last October. “As long as my body holds up, I will keep working. But the way it feels, I don’t know how long that will be.”

Milby’s job here in Kentucky is a world away from Amazon’s rapidly expanding campus in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, where high-tech talent has created one of the cutting-edge companies of the Internet age.

She has been part of the massive blue-collar work force required to fulfill founder Jeff Bezos’ ambitious vision of Amazon as a company that rivals Microsoft and Apple in technological prowess, but also offers one-stop shopping worthy of a Wal-Mart.

According to Amazon, more than 15,000 of the company’s full-time employees work in its U.S. warehouses, called “fulfillment centers.” Amazon is expanding its work force at a breakneck pace to staff its global network of some 70 centers — 17 opened just last year.

In an industry that often offers scant benefits, Amazon provides full-time employees with stock shares after two years on the job, a matching 401(k) and health insurance. Temporary workers, such as those hired during the holiday rush, can buy medical coverage through staffing agencies.

. . . .

To get a better — although not comprehensive — sense of life on an Amazon warehouse floor, The Seattle Times interviewed more than 40 current and former Amazon warehouse workers. Reporters visited Campbellsville, home of one of Amazon’s oldest fulfillment centers, and Sumner, Pierce County, home of one of its newest facilities. A reporter also toured a two-year-old warehouse in West Phoenix while accompanied by company officials.

They found some employees who relished the challenges of working at an innovative company and appreciated the emphasis on safety. But they also found others who said that in its relentless push for efficiency, Amazon was quick to shed workers who, regardless of their tenure, could no longer measure up.

The majority of the current and former workers would speak only if guaranteed anonymity because they were worried that speaking publicly could harm their careers.

Of the three sites, Times reporters heard the harshest complaints about Campbellsville.

Amazon was greeted as an economic savior when it opened its warehouse there in 1999, soon after the town’s largest employer, Fruit of the Loom, shut down its textile plant.

The county’s unemployment rate then topped 22 percent. The state offered $19 million in tax credits to help offset the company’s $38 million investment. And Campbellsville, located within a day’s drive of more than half the nation’s population, had geography in its favor.

The area boasted a work force that, while somewhat older in profile than elsewhere in the Amazon network, had long tackled tough blue-collar jobs. Amazon hired more than 700 full-time workers and suddenly became the largest private employer in Taylor County, according to county statistics.

Early on, Bezos impressed the employees by taking time to work with warehouse crews during visits to the town.

“The Amazon motto is ‘Work hard, have fun and make history,’ and that’s what we did,” said Wethington, who worked for more than a decade at the Campbellsville fulfillment center before she was fired last year for a safety violation.

But over time, said former workers at Campbellsville, production pressure from headquarters intensified amid constant turnover.

. . . .

At Amazon warehouses around the country, work shifts often begin with stretches and pep talks focused on customer service, which Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has repeatedly said is key to the company’s survival.

“The first thing I know is that you need to obsess over the customers,” Bezos declared in a 2009 video. “I can tell you that we have been doing this from the very beginning, and it is the only reason that Amazon exists today in any form. We always put the customer first.”

The drive to serve customers has put Amazon on the leading edge of innovation in the warehouse industry, which increasingly has been restructured to serve online retailing.

Amazon has abandoned the old model of parking merchandise in a few centralized locations to open warehouses across the country and around the world.

These distribution hubs store and ship millions of items offered by Amazon, and, in a burgeoning new business, also store and ship the products of other merchants who sell on Amazon.com.

. . . .

At the 2-year-old, air-conditioned warehouse in West Phoenix, workers, most of whom appeared young and fit, moved a record 2,086,548 items from the shelves to the loading docks in one week, an accomplishment emblazoned on a banner in the middle of the warehouse. The 1.2 million-square-foot building hums — literally, and at times loudly — as conveyors whisk items across, around and through the building at speeds of about 20 mph.

“I’m obsessed with efficiency, and this is the most productive place I’ve ever seen,” said Shelby Lewis, a 22-year-old West Phoenix warehouse worker who wants to make her career at Amazon. “We change stuff quickly here. It’s constantly getting better.”

Just like at West Phoenix, performance measurement is paramount at Amazon’s Sumner warehouse.

Employees are coached by a “problem solver” who roams the warehouse floor with a laptop on wheels and offers feedback on how to do things better. Each morning and afternoon, during breaks, management calls out the names of workers who have made their goals.

“They are a driven corporation — more driven than any place I’ve worked,” said one worker who handles freight.

But those who don’t measure up, that worker and others said, can quickly get the boot.

A supervisor in Sumner, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the company keeps track of mistakes, and penalizes workers for errors such as not properly scanning merchandise, even if the scanner itself caused the problem. Safety violations and other missteps also can result in write-ups that lead to firing, employees said.

. . . .

Amazon has built its network of fulfillment centers in an era when union membership has been declining. Organized labor now represents less than 8 percent of the warehouse workforce.

In Campbellsville, the mean wage for full-time workers — including incentive pay and stock options that vest after two years on the job — tops $14 an hour, according to an Amazon official. That is substantially higher than the mean hourly wage of less than $10 an hour for warehouse workers in south-central Kentucky. But it lags far behind the top tier of unionized workers in the area, who may make more than $20 per hour after four years on the job at a Kroger grocery warehouse, according to Kenny Lauersdorf with Teamsters Local 89.

Early on, Amazon took a hard line against unions. A high-profile organizing effort by the Communications Workers of America at an Amazon call center in Seattle ended in 2001, when the center was shut down and some 400 workers were laid off as part of a larger company restructuring. At the time, Bezos said union issues played no role in the decision.

Former employees at Amazon distribution centers say that workers are warned of the perils of unions. “We had a meeting once a year, and they would put the unions down and say that they would take money out of our checks,” said Owens, who worked at the Campbellsville plant.

Link to the rest at the Seattle Times

For a little perspective, Passive Guy will say that performing unskilled or semi-skilled physical labor and growing older don’t go well together in any line of work. Farm workers, factory workers, even retail clerks who are on their feet all day can suffer problems as they age.

Any company that employs tens of thousands of unskilled or semi-skilled employees is going to have ex-employees with complaints. Absent access to managers and co-workers at the former employer, it’s impossible to assess the validity of those ex-employee complaints.

The Seattle Times meme for its story about Amazon’s warehouse employees is the same as countless articles about Wal-Mart, another company that actively resists labor unions. These types of articles never consider the more relevant question for the tens of thousands of towns like Campbellsville, Kentucky – what’s the alternative for these Amazon and Wal-Mart employees?

In all probability, the alternatives are clerking at the local convenience store, working next to steaming piles of chicken guts at a horrendous processing plant or a dead-end job at a filthy local warehouse that hasn’t hired anybody new in ten years. And these alternative jobs are at minimum wage and include no medical insurance or any other benefits.

In a place like Campbellsville, it doesn’t take long for the locals to learn what it’s really like to work at Amazon or Wal-Mart. When 1,000 people apply for ten open jobs at the Amazon warehouse, you have a real-world assessment by the people most directly affected about whether Amazon is a good place to work or not.

One other benefit of working at Amazon — unlike the Seattle Times, Amazon doesn’t have mass layoffs right before Christmas.

Amazon

54 Comments to “Amazon warehouse workers fired if goals aren’t met”

  1. I know someone who worked at an Amazon warehouse over the holidays and he loved it. He’s a big guy but lost considerable weight in his few weeks there. He said he hadn’t felt so healthy in years and he enjoyed knowing he’d put in a good day’s work each day. He’d love to be called back full time and is still hoping that will happen. He left a permanent job to take the seasonal job with Amazon at lower pay all in the hope of being chosen for full time employment.

  2. In my neighborhood there are dairy farmers in their 70s and 80s who work from sunrise to sunset and beyond. They work outside no matter how cold or hot or wet. They climb up into the hay loft, they walk out into the field to repair fences. They help birth calves and put down old animals. The price of feed goes up while the price of milk goes down. D’s wife was killed in an unfortunate incident on the farm. He’s still farming with a smile on his face, one of the most generous men you could hope to meet. If you have a crisis, call him, he’ll be there to help.

    Working at Amazon is much harder; those workers make D look like a slouch.

    /sarc

  3. I have no doubt that there are times when working in Amazon’s warehouse is harsh, and exhausting, and perhaps there are things that should be changed, but those things could be said of any unskilled labor workplace. Reading this article I thought of the U.P.S. drivers that delivered palettes of textbooks to my store, in the southern heat, while sweat poured from their bodies. They told stories of the dizzying pace of their warehouses and the demands supervisors made on them – and they have a union! So where’s Seattle Times’ outrage over the treatment of U.P.S. workers?

    What really “got my goat” about this article was that at the end, after describing the conditions of Amazon’s warehouse as if it’s unfit for any human to be subjected to, the Times had the nerve to sound indignant that Amazon is considering using robots in its warehouses sometime in the future. The nerve! Taking away jobs that (according to the Times) cause heat exhaustion, injury, forced overtime, unrealistic demands, and exploitation of workers.
    It all reminds me of that joke by Woody Allen – “…two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ‘em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

  4. I just don’t get the point of this series. I think it would have helped to hear from Amazon but I suspect they smelled a hatchet job coming.

    I’ll be skipping the chat with Richard Russo at 1pm PDT today. Did the ST even consider talking with an indie author? I doubt it.

    Between this series and a baseball writer that doesn’t believe designated hitters belong in the HOF, I’m done with the Seattle Times. I’ll miss their book section and Larry Stone. That’s it.

    • Correction- Apparently Barry Eisler will also be participating in the chat. I just might stay around for that.

  5. Gordon Fridenberg

    I worked as a Temp at an Amazon fulfillment in Kansas for two weeks in December several years ago. It was VERY fast paced and exacting work. There was high turnover among the temps but I can’t say if that was due to people quitting or being let go. Most of the Amazon employees I talked to really liked working there. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t particularly like it either, and found something else after two weeks.

    I had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to discuss their procedures or anything else I learned while working there. There was a definite element of the Temps being treated like second class workers, and a presumption that were were going to rob them blind if we were not watched every moment.

    • I think temps are treated badly almost anywhere, Gordon.

      • I’m a temp but I’m treated very well at my job. I temp in the office, though, I don’t do the sort of warehouse labor they’re talking about here. Still, I’ve never been treated badly and I’ve worked as a temp on and off for years.

  6. Dear Seattle Times,

    It’s called work. For a reason.

    Sincerely,

    Capt. Obvious

  7. My college roommate worked at one of these warehouses, and we have one just coming online here near Chattanooga. For the level of education needed, they offer decent pay and good benefits, which are a lifesaver to many. I will also point out that there are plenty of other industries in which people are fired if goals aren’t met – work in a sales position sometime, or a profit-driven corporation. I now work in academia and it’s incredible to me, after working in corporate technology sales, how people can get away with doing nothing, have it documented, and the institution still can’t get rid of them. It’s a shame when you know age will end up hurting performance in a physical job like that, but they compensate much better than many jobs that require similar effort.

  8. PG, loved your link at the end of the article. Makes me wonder what some aspiring reporter would uncover if he started asking former Seattle Times employees what it was like working there.

  9. Amazon recently bought Kiva Systems (robotic stock-picking systems) for $775 million – it’s supposed to make humans’ jobs less onerous: http://bit.ly/FSmQN8

  10. Oh no! Amazon holds their workers to a certain standard of efficiency! The end is here!

    You know, as a worker, there is nothing more frustrating than another worker who is constantly neglecting their work, under-performing and forcing other workers to shoulder their burden but who is never forced to improve and whose job is never in danger. At first it angers you and then you resign yourself to it, and ultimately you think “what’s the point of working hard if it doesn’t make any difference?” And eventually the efficiency of the whole place goes through the floor.

  11. The most important point in that article was the 20% plus unemployment rate before Amazon arrived. I am sure that there are plenty of people in the community who are very happy to have those jobs. And I am sure that other communities would love to have that number of jobs with such onerous working conditions.

    I hate, hate, hate “reporters” with agendas. They have ruined the news.

    Companies that move facilities into rural areas are helping those communities in exchange for “cheaper” labor. I am betting that many of those Amazon workers had ancestors who worked (and died) in the coal mines. They understand what hard work is.

    Splitter

  12. Why do you post these pieces, PG?

    First, you prep your readers by introducing it with the evenhanded phrase “hit job”, then add a postscript whose message boils down to What did you expect, unskilled oldsters? Be glad you got laid off by Amazon in the spring, because reporters for the Seattle Times got laid off just before Christmas. They’re the *real* douchebags here.

    The net result is everyone concluding that Amazon is awesome and newspapers that conduct investigative pieces like these are little better than ambulance-chasing lawyers.

    If you hadn’t noticed, America’s getting older — and that includes *skilled* workers. As a 56-year-old I’m more than a little conscious that no one wants to hire me *regardless* of my skills. But your comment “that performing unskilled or semi-skilled physical labor and growing older don’t go well together in any line of work” offers no insights into this growing problem. It doesn’t seem outlandish to suggest that Amazon is placing stringent demands on its warehouse workers and that those demands are difficult to meet, week after week, for anyone who’s reached a certain age. But apparently the prevailing attitude around here is that those who can’t cut it are whiners who really don’t know what *real* work is all about.

    I can imagine such comments 150 years ago expressing contempt for adults who complain they can’t get hired by factories that prefer the industriousness and dexterity of children.

    The solution to that little dilemma was to outlaw child labor. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest we’re going to need similar legislation to protect employees in their 50s and 60s who gradually discover they can’t put in 8 demanding hours a day the way they could when they were 21.

    Or am I sounding like an out-of-touch progressive?

    • Why should people in their 20s who can do the job have to sit around unemployed because the government tells companies they have to hire people in their 50s who can’t?

    • Dick – No offense intended.

      I was simply pointing out the nature of many jobs requiring physical labor and the physical nature of many people of a certain age who do those jobs. I have a friend who is an experienced plumber in his early 60’s who has told me he can’t handle many of the the physical aspects of his work any more and has to pay a helper to go with him to crawl under sinks.

      Ditto for another friend who is a roofer who says the roofs he fell off of during his younger days are catching up with him now and he can’t crawl around on his hands and knees all day any more.

      While there are certainly many older people who are in excellent physical condition, I don’t think it’s any surprise that a larger percentage of 21-year-olds than 61-year-olds can spend 8-10 hours per day doing active physical jobs. I don’t approve of or condone age discrimination, but the physical demands of some jobs are more than some can handle on account of their physical condition.

    • Yep, you are. I am not being snippy, but you are inserting your view about how you think things should be for how they really and will remain.

      You have identified a problem: an aging workforce. But what is your answer? You only cite legislation being needed. What legislation? How will it help? There are already laws on the books regarding age discrimination. Are you saying that the law does not change the reality about hiring and firing practices? ( I would agree with that, btw)

      It was not how PG prefaced or summarized. It was about a reporter who has an anti-Amazon agenda. That was plain to see without prompting from PG.

      Really, I mean no offense. I too am getting older and have had to change careers before. There IS a problem in the ageing of our workforce, it is just not up to a company to solve it.

      We also have problem in our loss of manufacturing and other blue collar jobs. There are a lot of people who are not cut out for office work, what are they to do? Bless ‘em, they need companies like Amazon to keep such facilities open.

      Splitter

      • Ditto. One of the reasons I’m returning seriously to writing is that if I can make a living from it I can continue to do so until my brain turns to mush.

        Forcing companies to hire people who can’t do the work merely encourages them to replace those workers with machines or to move the work to somewhere that doesn’t have such onerous laws. And every time you force companies to hire one group of workers you’re penalizing the group who would have legitimately had the jobs otherwise.

    • It isn’t the responsibility of a company to provide people with employment. Companies hire workers to do the tasks that they need doing. Who does have a responsibility to the people you mention? The government, certainly, but not in the sense that they should force companies to become a kind of partial welfare. As Edward said, forcing a company to give a job to one person merely puts another person into unemployment. It hurts the company and yields no net benefit otherwise.

      Passive Guy was merely stating that Amazon runs warehouses, and the jobs provided in them are better than your typical warehouse job, so why the hate?

      By the way, The Seattle Times wasn’t writing about the problems of an aging workforce, nor was it even trying to defend that group. It was trying to make Amazon look like a cold-hearted company that tosses the elderly to the wolves if they fall behind the herd.

      Also, do you realize this is the third such article that PG has noted? Did you read those and his comments as well before commenting here?

  13. Wait, you mean a company has the audacity to expect employees to actually work and even goes so far as to quickly replace those that can’t hack it? Shame on them! If they only would charge $15 for ebooks, then they could afford to pay premium salaries for warehouse employees who can’t/won’t do the job right. I’m sure all their shoppers won’t mind the extra time to get their orders delivered or whether those orders are accurate or not. How dare Amazon expect professionalism and work ethic from people they pay. They truly must be evil!

  14. Believe it or not, at 56 I’m well aware of the failings of age. Luckily, PG, your plumber friend is prosperous enough to hire a helper to do things he can no longer accomplish himself.

    But seriously, to use C.S. Splitter’s blunt assessment of The Seattle Times, what’s *your* “agenda”? You know perfectly well your audience are terrific fans of Amazon, and it’s unlikely they’d know about this article at all unless they happened to live in or near Seattle. So why post it? The only plausible reason is to add a little red meat to their diet.

    Now, with respect to Mr. or Ms. Splitter: have you read the article? I did. The editor in chief of The Seattle Times may personally despise Jeff Bezos — anything is possible. But I wouldn’t call the piece a hit job. There are a number of troubling revelations in it about the pressure Amazon’s safety managers put on employees to avoid calling injuries “work related”, since such injuries have to be reported to OSHA. The reporters who researched the story interviewed a doctor who confirmed conversations with safety managers at Amazon who were unhappy he’d done things like administering an anti-inflammatory injection, because such events apparently trigger safety reporting paperwork.

    I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t care to have my employer butting into the details of my health care.

    Call me a starry-eyed idealist, call me a self-satisfied jerk, but I believe in a free press. I was a teenager during the Watergate Era and I think it’s far better to have reporting like this than *not* to have it. And I think it’s particularly inauspicious when the editorial tone and comments of a blog are unipolar, and I’m left with the impression that posts like this are largely self-serving.

    For the record, I don’t know how to solve this problem. I’m familiar enough with the federal age discrimination law — and the things an employer’s online application form is entitled to ask, such as when an applicant attended college — to know it’s ridiculously easy for any company to throw out applications from those who’ve reached a certain age. And it’s clear Amazon is legally entitled to fire employees who have been with them for years simply because they’ve outlived their usefulness.

    What I do know is that as the workforce ages — and unskilled jobs become more and more scarce due to the relentless growth of automation — this problem isn’t going to go away. (And Mr. Grant, I don’t believe I suggested in my original comment that people in their 20s should sit idle so people in their 50s can have a job. At the same time, should people in their 50s be fired simply because they can’t work as hard for 8 hours as someone half their age? Should we go back to a time when a woman could be fired because she had the temerity to get pregnant and want to stay home with her baby for 8 or 10 weeks? I believe that has a negative impact on productivity, too.) And while Amazon may not be the worst offender, it seems to me a newspaper that covers the city Amazon calls home is entitled to poke its nose into the company’s business.

    You may have noticed The New York Times recently did something similar with Apple. I’ll admit it: I don’t trust companies, period, because they’re known to have something called “the company line” that’s routinely used to hide the more unseemly aspects of their business. Most need to be embarrassed, some more than others. Apple needed to be embarrassed. Only good things can come of the Times sticking its nose into the company’s relationship with its suppliers in China.

    I’d like to think the same is true of The Seattle Times’ story on Amazon. But I don’t expect everyone here to agree with me. Or maybe anyone.

    • Again, so long as there are more applicants than positions, when you demand that companies employ people who can’t do a job, you’re demanding that they don’t employ people who can do the job. At best, the company would demand that the younger workers work harder for no increase in pay so that they can make up for the low productivity of the older workers.

      As for maternity leave, I don’t know about America but I’ve seen a number of small business owners in the UK say they no longer hire women of child-bearing age because they cannot afford to pay them to sit at home rather than do their job. So the supposed benefit ends up penalizing the women who do want a career rather than kids.

    • You won’t find any people agreeing with you around these parts. When I first starting reading this blog there used to be a mix of viewpoints in the comments but more and more the commenters speak with the same voice, and don’t particularly welcome differing opinions.

    • Believe me, Dick, I believe in a free press too.

      Just as you distrust companies, I distrust reporting that is blatantly biased. Both you and I probably agree that companies and reporters are necessary even if some (many?) cross lines we do not like.

      I am no more in favor of legislating the press than I am for legislating business more than has already been done. In this case, if a real investigation is done and some of these charges can be substantiated, Amazon will be looking at lawsuits, not unflattering news articles. If truly aggregious and illegal activity is happening, money will come into play…and we would both agree that companies are about money.

      Splitter

    • I try to avoid an echo chamber, Dick, so I regularly post items I personally disagree with.

      I’m a fan of Amazon, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for authors to hear only the cheerleaders.

  15. “When 1,000 people apply for ten open jobs at the Amazon warehouse, you have a real-world assessment by the people most directly affected about whether Amazon is a good place to work or not.” I hope I remember this number the next time I have the big business discussion. But first, tell me, is that number accurate? Or hyperbole to get the point across.
    Thanks.

    • That’s not a specific figure for Amazon, Cynthia, but it wouldn’t surprise me if those types of numbers apply in small communities. These ratios are typical of what happens when a new Wal-Mart store is about to open, however.

  16. “When 1,000 people apply for ten open jobs at the Amazon warehouse, you have a real-world assessment by the people most directly affected about whether Amazon is a good place to work or not.”

    People apply for jobs because – and I know this might be a surprise to you – because they have bills to pay and the alternative is being unemployed and not having enough money to live on. Just because people want to work somewhere when unemployment rates are high does not make them a good place to work. A better judge of how good an employer is looking at their retention rates in good times – when there are plenty of other jobs available. How many people are they keeping?

    • No, not a surprise, and of course retention is a useful gauge of job goodness, too. I suspect that retention is good beyond the entry level because the benefits and opportunities are good, at least, it seems to be around here. But actually, I was asking about the data. If you have some on retention (or application rates,) I’d be very interested.
      Thanks!

    • I can’t speak to Amazon, rae, but Wal-Mart has very good retention for the retail business, particularly in smaller communities. And the way-more-applicants-than-openings pattern has been going on for years with Wal-Mart.

  17. I think this is actually a real-world example of the tensions that produced Cyberpunk, with the all-powerful, feudally feuding corps who dispensed the only semblance of stability — if you toed their line.

    Remember the days when pensions rewarded the old worker who had spent his energy and youth working for his company? Financially infeasible now, but don’t we yearn for that sort of trade? Isn’t that the narrative of /fairness/? Especially with aging Boomers…

    I don’t necessarily think this is a hatchet job, though it is biased to play to the narrative. I think it is exposing the tensions, though. And further thinky thoughts must wait, for I’m on my phone and dinner just arrived.

  18. I’m on the road visiting colleges with my daughter, so I’ve only skimmed the Seattle Times’ pieces. So far, it’s nothing new: Amazon is not active in the local community as a corporation, they don’t like to pay sales taxes, working in fulfillment warehouses is taxing (no pun intended), and publishing is an inefficient business ripe for the taking.

    There are legitimate criticisms about the conditions in fulfillment warehouses, though it’s not limited to Amazon by any means (any more than the problems in Chinese manufacturing are limited to Apple.) I do believe things would be better were the workers unionized, but unions have been decimated by thirty years of public policy. In my opinion, the best way to improve the conditions of unskilled workers is to pass laws making it easier to unionize, but that’s not the way public sentiment is moving yet.

    As for the sales tax issue, well, as far as I’m concerned the Seattle Times has no standing to criticize anyone about about taxes. The Blethen family, owners of the Seattle Times, have used their paper to endlessly attack the estate tax.

  19. It’s especially funny when you know the history of the Seattle Times. We used to have two major city papers, but the Seattle Times steamrollered the Post-Intelligencer and now we have one (monopoly!). Plus the Seattle Times is losing subscribers at a rapid rate and can’t even give free subscriptions away. So, seeing them lecture a successful business on what they are doing wrong is a bit comical.

    I dislike being hectored at work to contribute to the corporate-sponsored charity so I hope Amazon’s declining to “give back to the community” catches on. I figure my employer pays me and then I can decide what charities I want to support. But somehow that doesn’t count?

    • Michael Matewauk

      They can’t give free subscriptions away, but they have racks of free copies throughout the U.W. dorms, student union, etc. Trying to get the kids hooked even though they get their news through smartphones/fb. I sometimes pick one up rather than pay a dollar for it at the Green Lake Starbucks where all the boomers/tree-media types hang out.

      Here’s a link to a story about Bezos donating an unScrooge-like amount of money to the Seattle Museum of History and Industry. A wonderful place if you ever have a chance to visit.

      http://www.seattlehistory.org/about_mohai/press_details.php?id=132&year=&month=&news_type=2

      • Donating money to This or That isn’t any kind of “oh, that person’s a good guy after all.” Robber-barons donated money in their era. It’s orthogonal to whether Bezos is eeeeeeeevil or not.

  20. There are only two charges made in this article that I don’t think are fair:
    – Discouraging injuries at work as being reported as work-related (if they are).
    – Penalizing employees for scanner mistakes (unless the employee could reasonably expect to realize the scanner was at fault).

    I admit to not having read the entire article, though. Perhaps there are one or two other things in there that are obviously unfair business practices. Otherwise, I see nothing wrong with a company who is building their image based on quick and accurate deliveries expecting their employees to be quick and accurate.

  21. I’m just wondering, how about the customers of Amazon? I, for one, want my items delivered “yesterday” and I am the one who pays for that – consequently I’m the one who pays the salaries of the workers.
    I’m not pro slavery, but I agree with Lee Allred above: “It’s called work. For a reason”.

    In these difficult times with such high rates of unemployment all over the world (and it will get worse), I think that people should be pleased to have a job.

    Physical labor is harsh, but try working with numbers for 14 hours a day and let’s compare who is more tired and crazy at the end of the day (I’ve worked in such way, as an auditor). Try working so many hours as an auditor at 50 and it will be a worldwide record (most auditors change jobs between 35-40 because it’s so stressful mentally and physically that they can’t cope anymore, except if they’ve made it to senior management or partnership levels). That’s my experience, but there are myriad other examples.

    Take doctors with shifts of 36 hours and underpayment, plus the many additional hours for studying. Is their work easier? Take also surgeons, who are standing without moving and straining their muscles to keep steady during surgeries, many times for 10-14 hours in a row. Is their work less physically straining? To which mentally stress should be added from the concentration they keep and the responsibility they have of the patient.

    At least if a worker at Amazon drops a box, nobody dies…

    Every job has its advantages and disadvantages,

    How would any customer like it, if items bought were delivered in a month time, because workers are slow (either young or old) on gathering, packaging and dispatching? I bet that 90% of the customers would be fuming and raging, demanding satisfaction, etc.

    And yes, I don’t like reporters with “agendas”, either.

    Here I have to mention also, that it’s PG’s blog, so it’s his right to write his opinion in any way he wants.

    I consider the question “Why do you post these pieces, PG?” posted by Dick Hartzell above, as redundant and pointless.

    After reading the comments, I remained with the impression that the discussion turned from stating agreements or disagreements with Amazon’s ways or the reporter who wrote the article, to the issue of PG posting or not posting, the way he’s posting and his opinions.

    • I can so relate! I work in healthcare and there are days were I’m being paged to three different units all at once and all for stat procedures. Not only is it physically challenging, it’s also stressful. Who do I treat first? I make a better wage than the warehouse people, but how often do Amazon workers have to suction various bodily fluids from someone’s mouth or worse, have those fluids land on them? (I once had bile splash all over my face.) When are they going to do a piece on healthcare workers? (sarcasm!)

  22. The most dispiriting thing I read in this bumper crop of comments posted since my bomb last night is that The Seattle Times is run by a family that uses it to “endlessly attack the estate tax.”

    Well, the bloom’s off the rose for me and The Seattle Times. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool New Dealer who holds with those who, like Warren Buffett, believe the estate tax serves a useful purpose: to prevent inherited wealth from creating a permanent ruling class in this country.

    So you were right after all, PG. The Blethen family and their sorry rag are richly entitled to your contumely.

    Otherwise I can only comment with bemusement at the profoundly black-and-white world many of your visitors seem to live in. Apparently workers are either ultra-competent and worthy of retaining or blithering idiots asking for the boot. Apparently Amazon customers are either entitled to get their packages “yesterday” or are doomed to wait a month to accommodate the aging buffoons I’m keen for Amazon to provide welfare for.

    OK: I’m quitting. I give up.

    My greatest fear in aging isn’t that no one will hire me; it’s that I, too, will begin to subscribe to the kind of sclerotic, calcified, deeply intolerant ideas about work I’ve been reading in so many of these comments.

    • Dick, if you’re reading the comments here as deeply intolerant, I can only conclude you’re bringing a whole lot of your own baggage to the table…

  23. Dick, the New Deal kept this country in poverty and misery for 20 years. The country didn’t recover until the late 40s, long after WWII was over, and even longer after FDR was dead. (People forget that when the government plows money into the private sector, they have to remove it from the private sector first. Where do they think the money comes from to begin with?)

    I’m 51, so I know about aging. I’m in my fourth career now (probably more than that if you look at individual jobs I’ve held). My last change, I’d been an IT programmer and my entire department was outsourced, so, at 42, I was laid off for the first time in my life. I went back to school and now I’m a CPA – and yes, that year of hell at a Big 4 firm nearly killed me, but I survived to find another place. I’m fine. For now. I know that could change at any time.

    The reality is we must continually up our skills and education – which we should be doing anyway. For those who don’t like office work, start lifting the regulations and break the power of the unions that make industry in the US next to impossible.

  24. The whole thing was a non-story.
    Amazon expects employees to work? In this modern age of pretending to work at a desk while you’re really making up wikipedia articles?

    I used to work in the grocery industry as a labour standards engineer. The acceptable time for an employee to drive to a specified location and retrieve a case of food was calulated to a thousandth of a minute. If they fall under 95% they get coaching. If it persists disciplinary action follows. If they beat the standard, their bonus is raised accordingly.

    It’s hard work, but no harder than what I used to do as a kid – forking food for our Herefords, skidding logs for timber, bringing in the hay and straw for the winter…

    It’s real life, not the Jetsons. There are hard jobs out there and some people take pride in doing them.

  25. I read this whole comment thread and I don’t get it. I mean, where were these slaves bought from and how much did they cost, and do they get whipped if they don’t work or do they just get put in the box? Seriously, I know that times are hard, but if you can’t stand a job for any reason, so much so that you are miserable and sick, you need to quit and look for another job. Yes I know that sucks. I hate looking for work. I hate filling out forms, going to interviews, marketing myself. But if I were physically suffering at my job so much that my health was threatened, I’d quit. You aren’t going to starve to death — you can go on unemployment or disability or mooch off relatives or friends. I realize that’s humiliating to a lot of people and/or against their political beliefs, but it’s better than being dead.

    One more thing: Amazon or any other business is not stupid. They aren’t going to risk getting shut down by OSHA because they put profit above the health of their workers. And one way to make sure the workers aren’t having health problems is to clearly state what physical risks the job entails. Every business has to do that. I work as a clerk in an office and I still had to sign a statement saying I understood that I might have to lift packages that weighed around 25 pounds (I can’t recall the exact number, but basically, I occasionally have to go into the supplies and get a box of paper). I am sure that Amazon gave their employees similar statements to read and sign. An older employee might have thought he could handle the load, and found he couldn’t, but that’s not Amazon’s fault. There are OSHA guidelines they have to follow or they’ll get shut down and then there will be neither jobs nor packages.

  26. I think some of the people here are not really understanding what Mr. Hartzell is saying. It’s not that people that are aging don’t want to work, but that there needs to be some grey area here. While people may want there packages “yesterday”, there is and has been a general breakdown of patience in the world as of late. If something doesn’t come to us immediately, we’re upset. If there is a snag in the service, we’re angry. People are a lot less patient and tolerant than we used to be, and this may be a contributing factor to policies that were highlighted in the article.

    I, for my part, am an amazon fan, and am not in the aging category yet. At the same time, I do think there could be at least a small bit or more of merit to the article. While I do believe there needs to be some grey area in how a company handles performance, on the other side of the coin, once we reach a certain age, perhaps we need to look at nurturing different skills to make a living at. The internet is a host of such opportunities.

    • You’d be surprised, I think.

      When I’m fortunate enough to have extra money (which I haven’t, lately), I collect ball-jointed dolls. The cheapest of them run around 125 usd + at least 20 usd shipping and handling. Serious collectors can pay into the thousands for the rare and/or “deluxe” dolls with extra pieces and costumes and so forth.

      The shortest waiting period I’ve ever had on a doll – which I’d paid for in full – was two weeks. The longest was three and a half months. There are collectors who have waited up to a year.

      Let me put it to you in other terms. In most cases, we’re sending large amounts of money overseas to companies that have flexible grasps on English and often waiting past the time when Paypal will refund your money and even edging into when credit cards will refuse to refund. Then, when the items are shipped, it can take between a few days and a few weeks (depending on shipping service) for a very expensive package to make its way through the mail service to arrive in our hot little hands and hope that it didn’t get damaged on the way (which means a lot of negotiation with the company in broken English about how to return the damaged part for a replacement and whether that replacement will cost us anything). And, gosh, let’s hope you got sent the right order. (Generally, everything’s fine – but sometimes…)

      So – I know from patience. Most of the ball-jointed doll collectors today are in their 20s, so a surprised what the younger generation is willing to put up with to get something that they want – if we’re given a reasonably accurate time estimate for delivery.

      That’s what the issue really is. You’re forgetting a major thing here: Amazon lets you pay for the speed of your delivery (or not-pay, as it were).

      If you pay for Prime, you’re being guaranteed a certain turn-around on when you get your delivery. If you pay for the X shipping or the Y shipping rate, you’re paying to get it within X or Y amount of time. And if you’re a thrifty person like me, you click free shipping and know you’re going to have to wait awhile for your order.

      In many cases, if you select the faster shipping time, it’s because you really-really want the order that quickly because by-gosh, you’re excited! Or you’re ordering it because it’s time-sensitive (your best friend’s birthday, or your sister’s wedding, or your class starts on Tuesday, or -).

      So, yeah – I can be patient. But if I put money into the deal so I had the luxury of being impatient, you bet your bottom I want the workers at the place to be as efficient as possible, because I paid for them to be.

      And for the times I didn’t pay for them to be quick and efficient? Well, if the package arrives much earlier than expected, I’m pretty stoked and am more likely to order from them again. That’s why there are certain ball-jointed doll companies I’m happier to buy from than others (hey, for a point – the doll company in particular that I’m thinking of is also cheaper than most and throws in bonus gifts to show how much it appreciates its customers!). That’s why there are certain online companies I love shopping with. Amazon is one of those.

      • That is a very good point C.R. I mostly meant those who order through standard shipping and get upset when it takes longer. I know from hearing these people complain about it.

        Your point is very well taken, though, and is an excellent point. One of the things I’ve always liked about amazon is that their shipping is so fast, I don’t have to opt for the quicker shipping unless I’m really in a hurry, as you stated above.

        I think this is a tough situation. certainly, people who are older should still be able to work where they choose, especially if jobs are limited. But at the same time, there is a standard of quality and expediency that must be maintained that may be outside of an older worker’s abilities.

  27. You, sir, have my utmost sympathy and appreciation. As a lifelong asthmatic, I’ve been in the hospital a few times and more. As a child, I remember hearing the doctors and nurses telling my parents they enjoyed coming to my room because I was so polite. Then I heard my dad saying, “well that’s good. He better be.” lol. I think it’s an easy thing to simply pay attention and appreciate the work that people do. Few jobs are a cakewalk. There are some, but even the simply easy jobs likely carry the mental stress. Right now, I’m a server. Once you get the hang of it, the job is easy, but the mental stress can grind you down.

    Nothing like what you go through, however.

    I know this is a slight departure from the discussion, but I had to comment. Back to our regularly scheduled program. :)

  28. Comments are running against Seattle Times and in favor of Amazon. It pleases me to see my fellow Seattleites call the Times on the poor quality and overt bias of this piece.

    http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/reader_feedback/public/display.php?source_id=2017883596&source_name=mbase&offset=0&direction=ASC&column=create_date

    Editor David Boardman will have none of this, and asserts that this article and the Times have done God’s work protecting its readers (and Amazon customers) from evil: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2017932700_boardman08.html

    A paper can get the facts right and still be guilty of irresponsible journalism. My particular beef is with Article #2. The writer takes one sentence to mumble the pertinent facts under her breath– that Amazon’s labor injury statistics are SUPERIOR to those of its competitors–then spends about twelve column inches seeking to undermine these statistical facts with emotional anecdotes.

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