June 2016 All Hands, APEP

The meeting began with upbeat music playing over a video of happy workers with the caption, “Amazonians care about the communities where we live and work.”

I have already mentioned some of the policies and initiatives presented at this meeting. I want to discuss one in particular, the new APEP program announced by Blake, the Assistant General Manager. APEP is an acronym: “Attacking Processes, Engaging People.” The program consists of three “categories of performance management” to be evaluated weekly.

The first category will be “meets or exceeds expectations.”

The second category will be the “supportive coaching zone.” Within this category, “your leader comes out on the floor and is attacking barriers, and engaging you for opportunities.” Individuals within the supportive coaching zone “will have that conversation with their manager.” The manager will address barriers to “help support you to get to that next level.”

The third category will be “bottom five percent.” For individuals in this category, the AGM said, there are “opportunities.” The company might look at “retraining” or “corrective action.” He said, “That bottom zone is the zone we want to stay out of. We don’t want to be in that bottom five percent . . . We want our team to be successful.”

Every day, every employee’s individual performance from the previous day will be posted in the stand-up meeting area, so that, “you’ll get to see where you stand.” The AGM characterized this program of daily rate postings as a benefit to employees because it provides “visibility to the expectations.” Every building in the entire network will be adopting this program within the following few weeks. “Your performance versus the expectation,” the AGM said, “will be shared with you, so you will understand where you stand within that process, and how the leader can help you to be successful.”

So, a year after Matt’s All hands announcement that SDF8 will be abolishing daily rate postings in favor of monthly evaluations, Blake announced that SDF8 will be posting daily rates for all Tier One employees, as a matter of company policy, and that this policy will be implemented network wide for all Amazon facilities and will benefit employees by making performance expectations more transparent.

The categories are more threatening than the AGM makes them out to be. An employee does not have to fall into the bottom five percent to lose his job. He only needs to fall under 100% of rate for two weeks out of the last six to receive documented coaching. After documented coaching, the employee will receive weekly escalations if he does not meet or exceed expectations. These escalations consist of a first write-up, then final write-up, then possible termination.

Following the announcement, I received documented coaching for my rate for the first time in my eighteen months picking. Documented coaching is the first step in getting fired. If I did not bring my rate up to 100%, the company would escalate disciplinary action. My manager was clear about this fact, and that I would be fired if I did not meet expectations.

Last week, the company fired a friend who had been with the company for more than a year after escalating to final write-up. He was a conscientious employee who showed up and did his best, but he wasn’t fast enough. The consensus is that no one is safe from coaching and write-ups. Amazon uses these tactics to apply daily pressure, always leaving the employee on unsure footing.

One picker, who began working at SDF8 in 2012, the year the facility opened, received a first write-up last week. He is half way to being terminated. I work with this individual. He follows Amazon’s rules to a T. I see him hustle every day. He has been a consistent performer for four years. In this scenario, either way, the company wins–it either brings the inveterate employee into conformity with artificially high rate expectations, or it replaces the inveterate employee, making a topped-out wage of $14.40 per hour, with a new hire, at a starting wage of $12.00 per hour, for a savings of $2.40 per hour in base pay alone.

(Addendum: The above employee no longer works for Amazon SDF8. I don’t know if he quit or got fired.)

Another, three year, employee was just written-up for the first time ever. She feels powerless and is afraid she is going to lose her job. She said, “They’re doing it to people just coming up on two or three years.” I told her, “You don’t want to believe that, but it sure seems like it, doesn’t it?”

It is hard to say if APEP is a direct strategy to eliminate a percentage of long-term employees to reduce labor costs. I would hesitate to say that it is. However, elimination of a percentage of long-term employees is an undeniable byproduct of the new APEP performance system. It is important to understand that any metric I can conjecture from my observances as a Tier One employee, Amazon can study clearly and entirely in statistical/graphical form. No aspect of labor cost is left to chance by Amazon. The company is comfortable with these percentages as they weigh against production/cost objectives. It is a business, albeit a ruthless one.

Amazon should not be writing-up inveterate employees who are consistent performers and who have violated no company policies except failure to meet or exceed expectations. Employees are frustrated and angry over these write-ups. These kinds of write-ups, particularly for long-term, stalwart employees, are egregious in my opinion and should be a major issue to be settled during labor contract negotiations.

APEP rate postings confirms the employee-employer, performance-based relationship. Employees will want to hold the company to the same performance standards regarding pay, overtime, working conditions, and job security to which the company seeks to hold workers regarding rates. Employees will want to evaluate and critique company performance to compel the company to increase, improve, innovate in these areas personally important to the employee.