We’ve been “workamping” at Amazon.com‘s Coffeyville Kansas fulfillment center since November 22.
One of Amazon’s staffing agencies, ExpressPro, has for the past several years organized bringing in hundreds of RV-living workampers to help out in Amazon’s peak season. Express and Amazon pay camping fees, and provide a “honey wagon” tank dumping service for sites without full hookups. Some of the workcampers have been here for months already, but we were part of the last batch to start, just before Thanksgiving.
The Huffington Post today published an article: Inside The Lives Of Amazon.com Warehouse Employees: Long Hours, Long Walks, And Heavy Lifting. For those wanting more info on the workamping gig that we’re currently checking out, this provides a closer look. For the record, we are in no way connected to the Huffington Post article published.
We’re here mainly here to checkout this workamping thing, as we’ve never done it before – and to experience what its like to work inside Amazon’s warehouse. It has been a fascinating and exhausting experience so far.
A lot of the other seasonal employees are here to earns some exrtra money, or to try and transition into a full time job at Amazon. Several of the “locals” are commuting from as far away as Joplin, MO or Tulsa, OK for the job. We even met someone who is paying almost as much as he earns each day to stay in a nearby motel – hoping his investment will eventually turn into a full time job offer.
Thank goodness money is not our motivating factor – as it’s not all that much (we’re making $11/hr).
Since an article has been published about exactly what we’re doing, we’ll take a moment and tell a bit more about what we’re up to and give you the perspective of someone actually there.
We can concur with the Huffington Post- the job involves long hours and long walks, but only moderately heavy lifting.
We’ve both been assigned to the ‘Sortable Singles’ area, which is a relatively new area of the warehouse designed for packaging just orders with single items (that aren’t DVDs, etc.). Cherie has been a packer since day one, and Chris has been assigned to be a jack-of-all-trades, occasionally doing packing as well as various support tasks throughout the department. On various days he has been helping sort packages, supply boxes to packers, and “problem solving” mis-sorted packages. From what we’ve gathered, Sortable Singles is one of the physically least demanding departments in the facility, and ExpressPro goes out of their way to place their workampers – most of whom are of traditional retired age – in this department.
Cherie stands next to three conveyor belts all night long pulling totes, scanning and boxing items to be sent to the shipping department. She has a department goal of 130 items boxed per hour – and she generally chooses to work the front of the line which tends to get all the big toys and difficult to box stuff (thus, slower to box). After just over 2 weeks on the job, she’s keeping pace with the average units per hour of her teammates of 105. Hardly anyone is making the management goal of 130 in the department (and those few that do are long timers and/or have to cherry pick the ‘good’ totes of easy to package stuff) – but our department managers seem quite pleased with productivity, and have continually praised our group for our work, and we seem to be keeping ahead of the totes coming down the line.
We selected to work the night shift, as it better fits our sleep schedule, and allows us to be accessible during day hours to our normal technology consulting clients.
For working nights, we are getting an extra 50 cents an hour. Originally we were working 4 – 10 hour days a week. After Thanksgiving, Amazon switched everyone to ‘scheduled overtime’ of 5 – 11 hour days (which ExpressPro had pre-warned us about). The overtime is not optional, and you will receive a point against your record if you miss a day of scheduled overtime. For those of us just working a short temporary peak season, points don’t mean all that much to us. But for those wanting to attempt to be hired on full time by Amazon, points mean everything. All warehouse workers start out via temp agencies, and it takes quite a bit of dedication and persistence to get hired on directly by Amazon.
As of this week, Amazon has authorized everyone an additional 5 hours a week of optional overtime – and is luring workers in with promises of ‘pizza and beer’ (root beer) on Fridays (we’ll be checking that out later this evening). That means everyone is expected to work 55 hours a week, and they will pay up to 60 hours a week. Everything over 40 hours is at time and half (for us, $16.50).
During our 11 hour shift, we get two paid 15 minute breaks – plus an unpaid 30 minute lunch. There’s no time to leave the facility for lunch, you must bring in your own stuff – microwaves, vending machines and refrigerators are provided. They also provide water, tea, coffee, gatorade-type substance and ice for use during breaks and lunch. During the holiday season, every Tuesday and Saturday (we’re scheduled to work both), Amazon provides a hot catered lunch for everyone. Last week was a chicken dish, this week a ham dish. Those working Thanksgiving day also got given a whole pumpkin pie to take home.
Our Experience & Impressions Thus Far
Thus far, we’ve been paid as agreed via ExpressPro – they even hand deliver our paychecks each week to our workstations, and someone from ExpressPro checks in with us daily. Our camping has been paid for. We’ve selected to stay at a beautiful state park about 20 miles away – so we do have a bit of a commute each day. We’re not actually here/awake enough to enjoy it, unfortunately. The nearest camping options were about 5 miles from Amazon, and when we arrived they were very full, very muddy and all the units were parked very close to each other. Apparently last year Amazon actually provided a shuttle bus to the campgrounds, but this year they aren’t.
The beauty of temporary gigs like this, is that there’s really no penalty for leaving early if you feel called to.
All and all, it’s physically demanding work that is not for the most part not mentally challenging in anyway. Everyone we’re working with is extremely friendly and accommodating. Our direct managers that we interact with daily are great at keeping us on task, without being too demanding. We’re working with a mix of other workampers (who are all awesome) and locals trying to make ends meet. We both come home at the end of the day absolutely exhausted. Our feet ache from being on them for so many hours. Cherie’s hands in particular are suffering from the repetitive motion – she actually took a day off earlier this week to recover better. And when she mentioned her hand issues to our manager, she was taken care of by Amazon’s ‘AmCare’, a safety incident report taken – and has had follow-up visits since. Physical safety seems to be an authentic constant concern for Amazon, and we’re lead through group stretches twice a day and given daily safety tips.
This experience has given us a fascinating peak inside this side of America from multiple angles – and we’ll be writing more when we’re done (on Dec 23) on these perspectives. Stay tuned.