Home Life on the Road

Inside Amazon.com’s Coffeyville Warehouse

[wp_campaign_2]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.

Our Gig

Photo from Huffington Post Article - General Amazon Warehouse Photo

Photo from Huffington Post Article - General Amazon Warehouse Photo

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.


The Time

Photo from Huffinton Post Article - General Amazon Warehouse Photo

Photo from Huffinton Post Article - General Amazon Warehouse Photo

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.

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Chris & Cherie have perpetually on the road since 2006 embracing nomadic serendipity. Now traveling in a geeked out vintage bus conversion - working remotely as app developers, technology consultants and strategy advisors. They are owned by Kiki.

10 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. As get ready to laundry in anticipation of what I suspect will be my last week(no one here knows when we will be laid off), my thoughts turned to you. I remember reading somewhere that you only have a couple days of clothing with you. You must be superwoman. I am not sure how dirty your FC or specific job is, but mine is pretty darn filthy. I end up crawling all over the chutes and floor which leaves me with a dirty face, knees, and arms every night. While I am always contemplating tossing most of my clothes to make more room, this job has reaffirmed the need for them. With the hours we are working, there’s no way I could get laundry done more than once a week. Not that washing the clothes makes too much of a difference. This job has stained and ripped my clothes up. I probably(don’t have a full length mirror) look like a complete bum every time I walk in to work. But hey, I would rather look like a bum (I will by the end of the night anyway) than ruin more clothes.
    .-= Hitekhomeless (jenn)´s last blog ..Cobwebs Begone! =-.

    • Actually..we have far more than a couple days of clothing with us. We’re just really good at selecting clothing that is ultra packable and fits in a small space. We’ve actually not done laundry since Thanksgiving weekend (over a month). Our saving grace has been 1) Most of our everyday wardrobe stuff works at Amazon as its warm enough in there that we don’t need warm clothing, that we don’t carry much of, 2) we relented one evening and bought extra underwear, socks and a couple tops and 3) we were gifted two t-shirts each from Amazon that helped us complete the gig without making time for laundry. I think I only had to rewear shirts once, at most – but I am just about out of shirts that are Amazon friendly (ie. no long flowy sleeves.).

      Other than that.. it was just rewearing jeans/pants. Thankfully, the dirty part of sortable singles is the hands with all that water activated tape goo. We wouldn’t have gotten away with that had we been getting our jeans dirty or destroyed.

      By the way.. here in Kansas, they extended employment opportunity to all workampers through the end of January (but no longer paying for camping).

      We just ended our last shift this evening (decided to bug out a couple days early and beat the snow storms to get to St. Louis for the holidays). I am SO looking forward to wearing something other than reworn jeans and tops!

  2. >> I’m curious as to how different your expectations where in terms of pay/hours and actuality? What jobs are you guys placed in?

    I had estimated 40hr weeks up until the last two weeks before Christmas. I assumed that those would be 55hrs. I thought that was the latest overtime would start.

    When I add up my hours and divide them by the number of weeks we have been working, it comes out to an average of 25hrs a week. They aren’t going to let us work a sixth day this week either. I didn’t even get in a 11hr day today.

    Johnny was placed in the same department as you, sortable singles, but in the VDF area. I am a “chuter”. I work the chutes in Crisplant. We pack boxes of multiple items.
    .-= Hitekhomeless (jenn)´s last blog ..Who says eating cheap is eating crap? =-.

    • Wow, that would be what I consider a conservative-to-realistic projection of hours – and similar to what we did the math on when considering this gig. And we’ve had a bit of the opposite experience. We hit a solid 40 hrs on our first week (the week of T-day), and then have gotten OT each week since. This and last week, everyone had the opportunity to get 60 (Chris got it last week, I had to take a day off to recover and deal with my real business, and only hit 49). It looks quite likely we’ll both get 60 this week, plus they’re tossing in a $100 bonus for anyone who hits 55 or above.

      We are considering having Saturday be our last day.. as I just can’t get motivated to keep up this pace into next week with no hope of getting any OT before it’s time to move on to spending the holidays with family. After working 60 hr weeks (and realizing just how little cash that actually adds up), just can’t get excited about a paycheck with only 33-36 hrs on it :D.

      After packing sewing machines and huge lego sets, VDF sounds like pure pleasure in comparison.

      All our best.. hope the week treats you well.

  3. You guys definitely picked the better Amazon FC. I wonder what the Kentucky one is like.

    As you know, its much different out here in Fernley, NV. My experience hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as http://liveworkdream.com, but the hours/pay isn’t living up to my figures on the conservative spread sheet I made before heading his way. For me, the job was mostly about the money. I wanted to make some extra cash to sock away to replace the tranny on the truck when it goes south. Other than that, everything is what I expected, and its been kind of nice making new friends and seeing them everyday at work.

    I can’t wait to hear more about your adventures. Best wishes.
    .-= Hitekhomeless (jenn)´s last blog ..Who says eating cheap is eating crap? =-.

    • I’m curious as to how different your expectations where in terms of pay/hours and actuality? What jobs are you guys placed in?

      We too are enjoying interacting with the same people daily – very different from our usual workstyle, for sure!

      I’ve not heard anything from anyone working the KY location, but our temp agency is running that program as well. It was apparently put together very last minute after Amazon was impressed with it here in KS, and only had a few dozens folks signed up for it. Apparently the pay was a lot lower, but there was a bonus if you completed the season.

  4. If you have time on your days off you might want to consider heading to a restaurant supply store and seeing if they have chef’s shoes. They help to support your body better if you’re standing for looooooong periods of time.

    Trying out different jobs and seeing different sectors of the economy seems to be one of the things that nomadism really plays to. I’m looking forward to it myself. 1.5 months to go…

    • We would definitely be in search of better shoes if we were doing this sort of work again. Given that we only have a week to go, it’s not worth the search effort, expense or storage space to seek now however.

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