Physical Environment, Size

The fulfillment center is austere, with utilitarian coloring and crushingly uniform design.

Workers constantly race–to their stations, at their stations, to their breaks, back to their stations, to the bathroom, to the door at end of shift.

Almost everyone stands, all day, except during very short breaks. Amazon employees stand, even when it doesn’t seem to be a requirement of the work they are doing. It has always seemed to me that Amazon employees stand almost as a capricious rule.

Music is not allowed, no mp3 players, no books, no intellectual stimulation. These are not allowed past security. (I brought a book in once to read on break. I was stopped by a security guard while leaving the facility. He photographed the book, filled out a report, asked me where I got the book. I said, “Um, I think Amazon.” He let me take the book and leave, and said not to bring books into the facility, they’re not allowed.)

The fulfillment center is fairly cool in summer, warm in winter. It is widely theorized that this is not due to concern for employee health, safety, or comfort, but because Amazon has begun selling food and candy.

Many Amazon employees operate at a very high pace for ten to eleven hours per day, forty to sixty hours per week. Much of the work is on hard concrete and can wear a body down physically in short periods of time, leaving the employee little recourse.

Amazon fulfillment centers are big. The more efficient the work becomes, the less human it feels. Of course, Amazon is shifting much of the work to robots as quickly as it can. I haven’t considered the conditions or implications of this shift in great detail. My focus is on SDF8, where the work is done by humans.

After I transferred to the Pick department, I saw a fellow worker from AFE. She had transferred to ICQA (inventory control quality assurance). ICQA can function as a haven for workers who are trying to relieve themselves of the constant physical demands of the fulfillment center. What these workers do more than anything is count items in a bin to verify inventory data. In AFE, my fellow worker usually re-binned. I said, “You used to really hustle over there.” She said her feet would swell and then wouldn’t heal by the next shift, so it had a cumulative effect. Her back bothered her. She said, “No one should do AFE. All that should be automated.” In AFE, she had been a real go-getter, the kind of employee Amazon loves. She is strong and athletic, a young woman in her twenties. She wears athletic-type clothes. Her revelations made me think that many Amazon employees suffer their pains quietly.