Consumerist readers, and Americans in general, love having things shipped to us online, but resist paying for the actual shipping. But those aren’t robots pulling your stuff off the shelves shortly after you hit “submit order.” They’re real people, pushed to work at an impossible pace for middling pay, with mandatory overtime. Mother Jones writer Mac Mclelland briefly worked in one such warehouse this past holiday season, pulling books, dildos, and cases of baby food off the shelves. She wrote about the experience. It might make you think twice before placing your next massive online order. Or not.
She found physically punishing work, where “pickers” who pull orders from shelves walk a dozen miles per day and fetch items on the highest and lowest of shelves, bending and stretching until they end up surviving on a steady diet of ibuprofen.
Here’s a scene from training. Workers, there through temp agencies, are expendable and have meager, if any, benefits. They have to apply and go through training again if they dare do anything as obnoxious as miss work to watch their child being born.
The culture is intense, an Amalgamated higher-up acknowledges at the beginning of our training. He’s speaking to us from a video, one of several videos–about company policies, sexual harassment, etc.–that we watch while we try to keep our eyes open. We don’t want to be so intense, the higher-up says. But our customers demand it. We are surrounded by signs that state our productivity goals. Other signs proclaim that a good customer experience, to which our goal-meeting is essential, is the key to growth, and growth is the key to lower prices, which leads to a better customer experience. There is no room for inefficiencies.
One advantage is that this is a blue-collar job that can’t be outsourced, at least until they’re replaced by robots in the next few years.
Update: The Atlantic put together a point-by-point comparison of McLelland’s description of life in the warehouse and accounts of working conditions at Foxconn plants in China.
I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave [Mother Jones] (Thanks, RandomHookup!)