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Hate lugging cat litter? Don't make us Amazon warehouse workers do it

05 Dec 2018, 16:11

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/201 ... kers-do-it

In the second installment of The Amazon Diaries, one worker says managers give lip service to safety, but ‘if we followed those rules nothing would get done around here’

Workers are ‘an extension of the machine’

Pet owners already know this, but to be clear: kitty litter and dog food are really heavy. Kitty litter makes concrete seem like a feather pillow. I don’t have a cat, but I deal with kitty litter every day. Bags of kitty litter are stored precariously in the warehouse in shabby cardboard boxes that split and spill their contents. I unpack trucks loaded from floor to ceiling with box after broken box of kitty litter. Often working alone, I lift and drag, throw and moan, trying to get these anchors out of the truck. Broken bags leave trails of the gray granules across the warehouse floor. I hate kitty litter.

On your first days at Amazon, safety is declared the No 1 priority in the building, above productivity and quality. Most buildings have an AmCare station (imagine a school nurse), and safety teams are common around the building, patrolling more like safety police looking for worker safety violations. We are bombarded, told again and again, that our safety comes first. But why do I feel gaslit?

With Amazon becoming the ‘everything store’, your weighty purchases – summer barbecues, Instant Pot pressure cookers, bookshelves, full-length Turkish carpets, dumbbells, mattresses, and, of course, dog food and kitty litter – flow through our sorting center by the thousands. Despite being told we should safely “team lift” all heavy packages, we are often told to unpack tracks solo, and for entire shifts of five hours throw one item after another onto a conveyor belt.

Those of us that are fast at the job are put in the same position day after day, the fastest in the building constantly rewarded with “Swag Bucks” or other prizes for herculean productivity. This takes a toll on our body. I’ve seen perfectly healthy 20-year-old men develop back problems in months. I’ve seen a bodybuilder knocked out cold after a 45-pound weightlifting plate fell on his head, and a wrist broken from tripping over boxes that fell from conveyor belts moving too fast. Our ‘Days Without an Injury’ board sadly often reads “0”, a sad face emoji within the zero.

Amazon is an unsafe place to work.


Management is complicit. One day, seeing my manager alone in a truck throwing heavy boxes, I asked why they weren’t following standard safety procedures. The manager replied, “If we followed those rules nothing would get done around here.” One process is followed when we’re not being supervised by safety teams, but when they approach all of a sudden we are told to ‘work safe’ and are punished with write-ups if we do not. With our managers under tremendous pressure to hit production numbers, the emphasis on productivity is immense. They start to look at us as production numbers rather than people. Management might say “safety first”, but that is not the reality.

One of the most crazy-making aspects is that we get blamed. Recognizing that injuries hurt the bottom line, responsibility for injuries that happen on the job is pushed onto the individual: Why didn’t you wrap the pallets together better? Why did you slip on the step stool? We report injuries and the most likely first questions are, “Are you sure that happened here? Are you sure you want to report it?”

It makes you want to reply: “Yes, I’m sure that my back is hurting from lifting thousands of boxes weighing more than 50 lbs everyday. No, they don’t put another person in the truck to ‘team-lift’. Yes, I recognize it’s unsafe and it’s my fault for not asking for a ‘team-lift’ for each box.” But often we don’t have a choice when we’re in there alone and our managers walk past every day without saying anything, and those who don’t follow the guidelines seem to be among those who get Swag Bucks and promotions. It’s infuriating. The process, the push for productivity, the toxic culture are never to blame, just associates.

So at work, we feel gaslit. Because what Amazon management tells us about safety, versus the reality of what they do, are directly opposed. This is why when injuries happen, we often don’t report them. We know the safety team isn’t here for us. We know that if we get hurt, it’s most likely going to fall on us.

One thing that gives me some hope: we care for each other. The other day, when working in a big-box truck by myself, a friend came over, asked me if I was alright. I said I was hurting. He ran and got another friend of ours to take over the truck that day. We make sure to rotate people out of the trucks. We see when people are in pain and we make sure they find work that’s good for them. The one thing that makes Amazon tolerable is the excellent people you work with every day. Workers are not the problem when it comes to unsafe conditions; we are the solution.

Also, if you’re reading this, please buy your kitty litter somewhere else.

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