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OM in the News: Amazon Warehouse Jobs Push Workers To The Limit

April 6, 2012

The physical demands at the Amazon warehouse in Campbellsville, Ky. take a toll on employees, reports the Seattle Times (April 4, 2012). “Just as Amazon tracks and analyzes the habits of online shoppers, the company has created a hyper-efficient warehouse culture where worker performance is continually monitored and measured in pursuit of slashing costs and shipping times.” Three former workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Campbellsville told the Times there was pressure to manage injuries so they would not have to be reported to OSHA, such as attributing workplace injuries to pre-existing conditions or treating wounds in a way that did not trigger federal reports.

A former Amazon safety official in Campbellsville wanted to discuss reducing the work pace when temperatures pushed over 100 degrees, but says he never dared broach the subject with management. “I knew that was off the table — not an option,” he said.  Instead, he outfitted roving managers with backpacks full of Gatorade, which they served to workers so the workers wouldn’t have to leave their posts.”  Managers said the company created a work environment where employees who complained about such conditions risked retaliation and firing.

More than 15,000 full-time employees, earning stock and health benefits, work at Amazon’s fulfillment centers (warehouses) in the US. The firm is expanding at breakneck speed to staff its global network of 70 centers–17 opened just last year. And as we noted a few days ago in this blog, Amazon just bought Kiva Systems, a warehouse robot company which Amazon believes will increase employee productivity dramatically.

At Campbellsville, Amazon was viewed as an economic savior when it opened in 1999 with 700 jobs. The town’s biggest employer, Fruit of the Loom, had just shut its factory and unemployment topped 22%. Jobs at $14/hour are high in the region.

Discussion questions:

1. How do these conditions compare to companies in Asia?

2. What is Amazon’s position regarding unions?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 10, 2012 6:39 pm

    The April 23-30, 2012 Forbes just hit the stands with Jeff Bezos on the cover as one of America’s Best Leaders. But his maxim #6 surely fits the blog topic: “Our culture is friendly and intense, but if push comes to shove we will settle for intense”.

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