By Suzannah Young
It sounds like a dream - to work for the company ranked as the world’s second most admired company for the past six years by Fortune, to work for a company that has been named by Forbes as one of the World’s Best Employers, to work for the company that is continuously among the Wall Street Journal’s Best Managed Companies.
Working for Amazon should be a dream.
But what is it really like, according to Barry sophomore MaKayla Hudson?
"I call it modern day slavery," she said.
Hudson, who is studying pre-law, began working for Amazon in May. She spent her summer stationed at the Amazon factory-warehouse in Chicago, where she held an ‘outbound’ job doing ship out, picking, and packing.
As a cross-trained employee, every day was different. For $20 an hour, Hudson would arrive at the warehouse, go through security, and then get assigned to one of the three manual labor jobs where she would work for the entirety of her shift on her feet. There were no chairs, no phones, and very little reprieve.
“I remember the first two weeks by the end of my shift I was barely making it…my feet were hurting so bad because I had been standing up and walking for 10 hours straight,” she said. “But you get used to it.”
Amazon’s mass shipping operation operates similarly to that of the classic assembly line – only in this case, each part of the operation serves as a step of the delivery process. In this case, packages are found by the pickers on the second floor, then sent to packers who receive them on a conveyor belt downstairs, and finally transported into trucks outside by the shippers.
While all tasks require employees to be on their feet, each one has a unique ‘rate’ that must be obtained in order to meet the company’s standards.
For example, if Hudson was assigned to ‘picking’ that day, she would work on the second floor searching for and picking up packages to send to the next two stages of the transportation line. In this job, the rate is determined by how long it takes an employee to get from picking up one package to another.
For picking, the time allotted depends on the distance traveled – the longer the distance, the longer the time an employee has to get from point A to point B. Because ‘pickers’ have no direct supervision, all movements are monitored and recorded by a technological tracking system that employees are required to use when on the job.
While Hudson describes the picking job as stressful, the ‘packing’ job, was equally - if not more - intense.
“It would be horrible. We would have to get the boxes off the moving line before the blue light comes on, and if you fall behind then the [supervisor] was supposed to come help pick up your line, but they never really would come help,” she said.
Complaints from Amazon employees concerning operational conditions date as far back as 2011, when the Seattle Times reported that an overheated Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania had caused multiple employees to suffer from heat-related illnesses that sent some to the hospital.
The growing company again struck headlines in 2017 when Bernie Sanders and other politicians publicly criticized what they called a ‘monopoly’ for its disregard for employee safety and unfair wages.
But Amazon undoubtedly took its largest blow in 2018, when an undercover journalist for Insider reported that the Amazon warehouse conditions paralleled that of a “prison,” thus inciting a domino effect as more and more workers began to share their stories with the press.
Since then, Amazon has been criticized for its high turnover rate, inadequate wages, dangerous work environments, and dehumanizing task expectations - just to name a few. In addition, employee strikes and boycotts of the company have continued to frequent headlines for the past several years.
“At Amazon, everything is very meticulous. They’ll look at your rate, such as how many boxes you’ve scanned and put away within a minute, and if it’s not over a certain number, then you have time taken off of your paycheck,” said Hudson.
In other words, the lower your rate, the lower your check.
Work shifts for Amazon warehouse employees vary, but most are between eight to 12 hours, with one paid and one unpaid break during that time period. Hudson worked the night shift from Saturday to Tuesday, reporting to work each evening at 6 p.m. and not leaving until 5 a.m. the next day.
Federal labor law mandates that for shifts up to twelve hours, workers are allotted two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch. Since Hudson worked at night, breaks were instead divided into two 30-minute periods.
Hudson took her first break at 10 p.m. and the other at 1:30 a.m. However, she says that because the factory is so big, the time it would take to walk from any station to the exit would take five minutes, meaning a total of 10 minutes of the break time would be spent walking back and forth.
“Imagine having to walk from Thompson all the way up to the Landon door, and you have five minutes to get over there to start your break. But they wouldn’t let you leave until 1:30 exactly, and you have to be back by 2:00 exactly,” she said.
The reality was that her Amazon factory was cutting their employees’ breaks short.
If employees were late, money was docked from their paychecks. Some of her coworkers would complain about the situation being a labor law violation, but no changes were ever made.
Despite the strenuous and seemingly unbearable conditions Hudson faced at Amazon, she does not regret her experience and admits that it could have been worse.
“Everybody complains about Amazon, but Amazon is the holy grail of all the warehouse jobs. So, it’s like, Amazon is bad but everything else is much worse,” she said. “Honestly, the whole thing is an industry problem, but I think the reason Amazon gets so much bad rap is because they’re so big.”
For such a bad rap, it seems remarkable that Amazon remains the No.1 company to work for in 2022, according to LinkedIn.
And incomprehensible as it is, some employees such as Hudson opt to stay at Amazon. Why might you ask?
“If I go back and work another month, they put in $5,000 toward my tuition,” Hudson said. “I hate to talk bad about the company because they have helped me...but I still could never work there for the rest of my life.”