Inside the heart of Amazon’s distribution empire: backbreaking labor, few benefits, and fewer protections.
There’s a high cost to cheap shipping. Amazon faced $28,000 in fines relating to the death of an Indiana warehouse worker. In 2018, the same year as the fine, $28,000 is also how much Jeff Bezos’s shares appreciated every 10 seconds. If death is merely the cost of doing business, then what of injuries, maiming, and the psychological toll that occur more frequently?
In Washington State, the injury rate is anywhere from 3.32 to 4.67 times higher than the industry average for warehouses. The worst rate is in Troutdale, Oregon some 6.47x higher than the industry average per year. That’s just the immediate impact. Injuries can take people out of the workforce entirely. Or prevent seasoned workers from ever working in the industry again. Due to accounting and tax policy ju-jitsu, Amazon may not even be liable for employees injured at the site, regardless of whose work the worker performed when injured.
The itinerant worker, wandering job site to job site, for whatever piecework is available was a staple of the depression-era economics and art. Amazon’s helped it return through programs like CamperForce, where seniors and migrant workers can work for less than full-time employees and with fewer benefits. Thanks to lax US labor laws, Amazon assumes “less liability” (either from taxes or payroll) for caring for workers whose labor they profit hand-over-fist. They’re not alone. Goodwill runs this scheme too. Still, is the best we can imagine for ourselves and our families a roving camp with little hope beyond short term profits that we’ll never see?
An Amazon fulfillment center worker detailed their personal experiences on the warehouse floor. In an effort to improve productivity and morale, various competitions and games (dubbed “FC Games”) were implemented. In a ten-hour day, workers are asked to pick a given rate of items. Stretch targets are suggested to milk additional units out of workers. End of story. Their health, well-being, and autonomy be damned. It is a machine. A machine that you will be asked to love and prove your devotion to. How?
Various methods have been introduced over the years to develop loyalty to Amazon without worker say or pay. “The Offer” has been detailed to a great degree. Some workers are offered or rumored to be offered thousands to quit. Workers who reject the offer see it as a loss and double down their commitment to not lose out by working harder. They’ve “invested” without actually receiving a larger stake in the collective work. The capitalist has convinced the worker to smile and belong.
‘Go back to work’: outcry over deaths on Amazon’s warehouse floorMichael Sainato, The Guardian
Amazon’s internal injury records expose the true toll of its relentless drive for speedWill Evans, Center for Investigative Reporting
Find out what injuries are like at the Amazon warehouse that handled your packagesReveal Staff, Center for Investigative Reporting