Opinion: The woes of warehouse work


Kaetln Harrison, Staff Reporter

The New York Times recently published an article about the harsh working conditions that Amazon employees face. The article generated a lot of debate and support from employees.

This summer I worked at Amazon for three insufferable weeks. While that may have not been enough time to fully grasp the experience of working there; I learned a lot and it’s surely an experience I’ll never forget.

This summer I decided to quit my job as a janitor in search of something more substantial. I was about to graduate college and a bigger paycheck with benefits was necessary, or so my mom’s nagging would have me believe.

My father had been working at Amazon for a year and told me they were hiring. I went to Integrity Staffing and was hired on the spot. Two weeks later I began working for Amazon.

On my first day I walked through the rotary style iron gates with a smile on my face. I was optimistic and ready to begin. I circled up with my new hire group of seven to listen to my ambassador give us his training speech.

He took us on a tour of the 1.2 million square foot facility. There were endless aisles of cardboard boxes filled with items from floor to ceiling. All that surrounded us was a menagerie of yellow totes, cardboard bins and concrete. At that moment the mood of my group and myself shifted. We had begun to realize exactly what we had gotten ourselves into.

He showed us how to pick next. On a scanning gun a screen popped up and showed us the aisle, bin number and product description of the item we were looking for. Depending on which bin the item was in you would either have to squat down to retrieve it or use your stepladder. If you were lucky it was somewhere in the middle.

Once you found your bin, you would scan it to make sure you were in the right location and then search the bin for your item; all while being timed.When you scanned your item the screen would show your next item; which was sometimes in an entirely different part of the building or different floor.

After he showed us how to pick it was break time, which was the main issue I had while working at Amazon. Breaks, for the pick department, were measured by my last pick out and my first pick coming back, which means the time it took to walk to and from the break room was counted in my break time.

They said it would only take me two and a half minutes each trip but in my experience it took five, which only gave me five minutes to sit down, have a glass of water and then I was back at it again.

When I came back from break on my first day, two of the people in my new hire group had quit. At that time I thought to myself, “This job isn’t that hard, they’re being childish.” But as the days went on, I started to think that they had made the right decision.

On my third day they transferred me from the fourth floor to the first on opposite sides of the west module. I had such a hard time finding my next pick.

When I finally found my next pick 40 minutes had passed and I’m pretty sure I lost years of my life from the stress I had just endured. About an hour later my supervisor came and found me. She told me that I was being written up because I took too much time finding my next pick.

I explained that it was my third day and she gave me a warning and explained that if I wasn’t a new hire I would have been written up. It was then that I began to worry about my time.

I was supposed to be picking 75 items per hour and depending on which floor I was on my best was 55. My dad explained to me that only the bottom 15 percent of pickers were written up for having less picks but it still concerned me.

While keeping up the pace was a concern nothing rivaled the physical pain I was experiencing. At the end of each night on average I had done the equivalent of hundreds of stair steppers and squats and thirteen miles of walking. To say that my feet hurt would be an understatement.

It didn’t help that I was working night shift. When I got home at six in the morning the walk from my car to my bed was almost impossible.

During my second week my leg seized up and I tripped and fell on my gravel road; instead of getting up I laid there for another ten minutes contemplating the benefits of sleeping outdoors; which would have won out if it hadn’t have been for the bugs.

Every morning I would come home and beg my mom for a foot massage. Much to her dismay because, as previously stated, it was six in the morning. It’s safe to say I can never turn down a favor for her ever again.

While I will be the first to admit I am not in the best shape, countless people I worked with while at Amazon were fit and still found the rigorous schedule difficult.

The physical aspect of the job wasn’t the only part that was draining. In my second week I began to notice my mood shift. All I wanted to do was sleep. I hadn’t socialized with my friends since starting the job.

The environment I was working in was so dreary. I was surrounded by cardboard and concrete all day with very little human interaction. I could feel myself becoming depressed.

By the end of my second week my new hire group was down to two, which was when I realized I wasn’t going to make it.

By the end of my third week I was done. I got in my car and began to drive to Jeffersonville. As I drove I turned on Taylor Swift; it was then that I knew this job wasn’t for me. If Taylor couldn’t improve my mood something was seriously wrong. I couldn’t validate staying somewhere that was making me so miserable.

With school quickly approaching l knew I had to make a decision: work or school. While I had the luxury of being able to quit Amazon to focus on school many students cannot afford to do this.

Working this job helped me appreciate those who are able to work full time and go to school. I think everyone should work a job like Amazon in their lives; for some it leads to great opportunity. For those like me, it leads to perspective and gratitude for the life I have.