Bil Browning

Worst Employer Winner: Amazon Warehouse

Filed By Bil Browning | September 28, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Amazon

While I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the working conditions at Amazon.com's Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania warehouse, it still shocked me. The company forces temporary workers to work in 110+ degree heat, punishes employees for Amazon-logo.jpgseeking medical help for heat exhaustion, routinely fires employees for minimal transgressions (including being sent to the emergency room for heat exhaustion), and demands unreasonable productivity.

The company has shot back against the employees and hospital workers who contacted authorities. All is well with the world according to Amazon because they've started giving their low-wage workers popsicles and bandanas. The company won't open the big bay doors to allow in cooling breezes because they're afraid someone will steal from the warehouse, but they did install fans that the workers say turned the stifling hot area into a "convection oven."

It reminds me of when I was the Operations Manager for a Hewlett-Packard factory in Indianapolis. While it wasn't my worst job (that's a story for a different post, but suffice it to say I will win the "Worst Job Award" in 99.9% of cases), it was in the top three. Why?

My job was to fire workers just like the ones at the Amazon warehouse under the same horrendous working conditions and for spurious reasons like Amazon uses.

Most of the factory was staffed by temporary workers who were paid rock bottom wages. There were a few FoxConn - a computer parts manufacturer - and HP employees at the plant, but most of the regular labor came from the folks we hired and fired like they were nothing.

The temp agency mostly hired poor African-Americans and Asian workers. Most of the black workers rode the notoriously unreliable Indy bus system. When they would be late, we'd mark it against them - even if it was just a minute. After a handful of minor infractions, they'd use them against the employee and fire them.

Did the line foreman think you were making eyes at the worker he wanted for himself? You got fired. Take too long on break? Gone. Get sick? Don't bother coming back.

And my job was to do all the firing for the company. The employees hated me. When I walked the factory floor they'd all put their heads down and concentrate intently on work and then breathe easier when I'd passed.

If I was walking the floor, I was going to fire someone and 99% of the time I had a security guard or two with me. The employees called it "getting the tap." I'd walk up to someone as they worked on the line and tap them on the shoulder. When they'd turn around I'd always say, "Gather up your things and come with me." They'd know they were getting fired and the security guards would escort them to the front door and metal detectors while I turned off their badges and made sure the front door guards knew they weren't allowed in the building anymore.

Once the employee had been at the factory for a while, they could work their way into a permanent position with HP or FoxConn. I think it happened once or twice. Most of the time, the company would find a reason to fire the person since they'd have to offer health insurance and other perks if the employee stayed on the temp agencies payroll. If you moved them to HP's payroll they'd start over waiting for the opportunity to get health insurance. I can't remember any employees that actually got insurance from the agency other than the management.

I ended up quitting by just walking out and saying, "I can't do this anymore."

After my experiences with Hewlett-Packard, I shouldn't be surprised at Amazon's business practices, but I'm still disgusted.


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I always thought my job at Subway sucked. Just goes to show there's always someone with a worse job.
-Jeremy

Was that a well paid job?
It sounds awful.

It was the highest paying job I've had. It resulted in a nervous breakdown within a few months. It wasn't worth it.

When I was younger and living another life, I worked a lot of this kind of warehouse job. The warehouses were generally not ventilated or air conditioned, and the quotas were tough to maintain. I never lasted long on these jobs because I' be looking for something else almost from day one and would quit as soon as I'd found something better, if I hadn't already been canned for not making quota. In those days, it was much easier to flit from job to job because there was always a warehouse somewhere in the area looking for help.

It was not a fun job, but it did pay reasonably well considering the lack of qualifications, yet never in any of those jobs did I see such awful treatment of employees as this. Virtually all of the non-managerial warehouse help were temps, but even those who managed to get hired by the company usually ended up getting fired on their 89th work day, the day before they would be allowed to join the union.

This really doesn't surprise me at all because warehouses have been hiring and staffing this way since I was a kid. It's only that now with unemployment being what it is companies feel freer to cut costs on the comfort and safety of temporary workers because they know there will still be an unending supply of new temps willing to take that job.