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Welcome to Amazon Town

20 December 2011

From the Wall Street Journal:

FERNLEY, Nevada—Behind the piles of smiley-faced Amazon.com Inc. boxes arriving on doorsteps this holiday season are workers like Ray and Sarann Williams.

The retired couple are part of the swarm of seasonal employees taking up temporary residence in this small desert city—home to one of Amazon’s warehouses—to help the online-retail giant fulfill its influx of holiday orders.

The Williamses migrated from their home in Hurricane, Utah, to take the two-month warehouse gig. “The money always helps” and the physical labor “always makes me feel better,” Mr. Williams said as he walked his miniature schnauzer, Maya, around the Desert Rose RV park, where the couple is currently residing. The 75-year-old said this was his second stint as a seasonal Amazon worker, after spending last autumn at Amazon’s Campbellsville, Ky., location.

Amazon, the world’s biggest e-commerce purveyor, sees a sales spike every fourth quarter, when it makes nearly 40% of its more than $34 billion in annual revenue. To meet that surge, the Seattle-based company hires hundreds of temporary workers at each of its 34 U.S. warehouses.

A spokeswoman for Amazon, which has 51,000 staffers excluding seasonal workers world-wide, said it hires “thousands” of temporary workers for the holidays, but declined to disclose specific numbers. It said it quadrupled its staff at its warehouse in Phoenix to 1,200 to handle the end-of-year rush.

. . . .

Many current and former seasonal workers said Amazon pays decent wages—about $12 an hour plus overtime in Fernley, which is about 50% better than minimum wage here. But that is in exchange for long hours and tedious labor.

“It’s like the best place to work and the worst place to work,” said Kelly Andrus, a 50-year-old Fernley resident who served as an Amazon holiday employee seven years ago. “It’s good pay, and they’re safety oriented,” but she said the managers were strict and the labor was physically demanding.

. . . .

Clare Moxley, who came to Fernley from Kimberley, British Columbia, said she heard about the Amazon gig from a workamper website. The 54-year-old went into early retirement five years ago, after working as a bank information-technology manager, and said she recently took up the RV lifestyle to battle complacency.

Though she sometimes gets together with several coworkers at a local Mexican restaurant on Saturdays, Ms. Moxley said most nights she is too tired to do anything but stay in her 16-foot trailer, which has room only for a small desk and a twin-sized bed. Off days are used to catch up on sleep and to do laundry.

Still, she said she was glad to make new friends in Fernley and to prove that she could still handle tough labor.

“I definitely would do it again,” Ms. Moxley said.

Amazon said it hires RV residents for the autumn in three locations, Fernley, Campbellsville and Coffeyville, Kan., as part of a program called CamperForce, which started last year.

Current and former seasonal workers said Amazon lets them choose from several RV camps where the retailer will pay the parking fee for the seasonal workers.

. . . .

The RV parks are perhaps Amazon’s biggest beneficiaries this time of year. Debbie Skinner, the owner of Desert Rose RV Park, said about a fifth of her annual revenue—she wouldn’t give underlying numbers—comes from Amazon. The monthly parking rate at Desert Rose is $375, though Ms. Skinner would not disclose Amazon’s special rate.

The effects of temporary help also trickle down to local businesses and the city government. Troy Sibson, manager of Pioneer Crossing Casino, said his establishment gets noticeably busier during these months.

Mr. Sibson couldn’t provide specific figures on the boost from seasonal workers. But he noted one change: “They befriend the bartenders.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire after a few days)

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6 Comments to “Welcome to Amazon Town”

  1. Evil Amazon, at it again. Providing jobs and a stimulus to local economies. Must. Boycott. Amazon. Let’s throw some pop-ups online to stop customers from shopping there, yeah, that’s the ticket.

    I love this kind of news! Thanks PG, you got me grinning again.

  2. Your finding articles like this is the reason you’re number one on my Best Of list, PG. http://jwmanus.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/top-ten-indie-writer-discoveries-of-2011/

    I love stories like this. You’re so right, Barbara, evil, evil Amazon. Slap its hand!

  3. Here’s a slightly different take on what it’s like to work in an Amazon warehouse:

    http://www.mcall.com/news/local/amazon/

    Feel free to skip if you’re keen on viewing Amazon as a beneficent giant that grants retirees a new lease on life.

  4. You know what, that is really cool.

  5. Since we live and travel in an RV I know multiple people seasonally working for Amazon at this time of year at all three locations that use RVers. All say it is hard work, but Amazon is a good employer. Those that can handle the workload say they would do it again.

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